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Digital assets are increasingly an important part of a person’s wealth portfolio. Present-day digital technology presents myriad ways to make money online. In the past few years cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and Ethereum (among many others) have proven themselves to be not just viable, but important investment opportunities. Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) have swept the art world and become a must-have part of any serious collector’s portfolio. Real estate in the so-called metaverse has, in the last twelve months, grown from a fringe idea to a force able to exact real-world consequences in the stock market.
The above examples are not the only digital assets that are worthy of consideration, however. The world’s most popular YouTuber earned $54 million in 2021. Influential Instagrammers rake in hundreds of thousands with each post they make. Even non-celebrities are able to make significant money in these digital markets which is to say nothing of the sentimental value such assets often accrue.
Whether you derive your income from cryptocurrency investments or social media participation or simply use the internet to store priceless memories, it is crucial that you take steps to protect your assets. Unfortunately, this is not always easy as digital assets remain far less regulated than their traditional counterparts.
A glaring example of this is the story of Thea-Mai Baumann, who in 2012 started an Instagram account with the handle @metaverse. The account served to document her creative work and, later, to support her augmented reality company Metaverse Makeovers. For nearly ten years, it achieved this purpose, and then in October of 2021 Instagram’s parent company, Facebook, changed its name to Meta and Baumann suddenly found herself blocked from her own account. “Your account has been blocked for pretending to be someone else,” was the message she received on screen when trying to log in.
Overnight Baumann had lost nearly a decade’s worth of work. It was not until she spoke with an intellectual property lawyer and began digging into Instagram’s terms of service that she realized her account had been blocked because Meta (formerly Facebook) essentially affords its users no proprietary rights over their usernames and, by extension, their accounts. The company retains “unfettered discretion to appropriate people’s Instagram usernames,” says Rebecca Giblin, director of the Intellectual Property Research Institute of Australia at the University of Melbourne.
It took months for Baumann to recover her invaluable creative content and hard work. Renewed access to her account did not quell fears of what the future may hold for her brand, however. “Because I have been working in the metaverse space for so long, 10 years, I just feel worried,” she said.
Baumann is not alone in her concerns. Where Meta contains complete control over the products so many users depend on to earn their livelihood, build their brand, and store their memories, there is plenty of reason to worry.
Cryptocurrencies and related markets are similarly unregulated. Indeed, one of the central appeals of this new asset is its ability to remove the need for traditional financial institutions and, by extension, traditional forms of regulation.
The insecurity inherent in many digital assets makes incorporating them in your estate planning that much more important. This is also a good time to remember the importance of having access to loved one’s digital assets should they pass, which we discuss in a previous blog. By working with an attorney experienced in the subject to build a plan that ensures your assets remain in the right hands after you die, you protect yourself and your family from experiencing tragic and irreparable loss at a time when nothing of the sort is needed.
To learn more about incorporating digital assets into your broader estate plan or to get started on protecting these assets today, do not hesitate to reach out to the Law Firm of Christopher W. Dumm either by calling 417-623-2062 or using the contact form on our website
Contact the Estate Planning Attorneys at the Law Firm of Christopher W. Dumm