All those digital books, songs, movies, TV shows, and apps a person accumulates over a lifetime on their Nooks, Kindles, and iPhones — can you leave the collections to your heirs?
The answer is, sort of.
As in life, so afterwards. Transfers are limited by the way media is purchased. The purchased media has a digital rights management (DRM) code written into it, which enables the seller to limit the number of machines it can be used on. The accounts are set with an email address and password.
iTunes presently limits sharing to five devices using the same account. To transfer the purchased items to a sixth device, you de-authorize one of the original five, and then authorize the sixth, and the entire media library is available on the new machine.
Kindle has no limit on the number of devices that are linked to the account, but a specific book cannot be downloaded to more than, usually six, machines. When the limit is reached, you can delete the book from one device, and then it is available in the cloud to be downloaded to another machine.
When it comes to the question of how to leave these accounts to heirs, there are legal and practical considerations. Legally, Apple and Amazon do not recognize a right to transfer accounts or digital assets. But, as a practical matter, Apple and Amazon do not make the transfer difficult. These companies do not have any procedure for recognizing an owner, except by email and password. Owners are free to use different or multiple credit cards, which in effect enables fractionalized ownership and use of the accounts.
Through a will or trust, leaving one heir the account email and password gives control over the media. Over time, as media libraries grow voluminous, and assuming the form of the Kindle and iTunes content is still relevant and has not gone the way of LP’s, cassettes, VHS tapes, HDTV, and increasingly DVD’s, it may be preferable to assign ownership of the email address and password to a trust if sharing among heirs is contemplated.
New laws may be enacted to explicitly govern transfers of digital assets, but given the lobbying power of the industry, such laws would probably not favor consumers. Part of the pricing of media relies on the assumption that we will buy it again and again.
The takeaway is that digital media, like social media profiles, and email accounts, are an increasingly important asset to take into account when creating an estate plan.