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What happens to digital purchases after death?

April 26, 2022
Collections of digital assets - iTunes songs and films, Kindle ebooks, and other digital purchases

This is not the first time we have spoken about the similarities and differences between physical and digital assets. Before the age of the Internet, people owned only physical assets: real estate, money made of metal or paper, paintings and other valuables, books and other intellectual property

In the digital age, our possessions are no longer only physical but also digital. The World Wide Web and the Internet laid the foundations of modern commerce, provided new forms of communication, and enabled digital purchases.

Why are digital purchases worth mentioning?

They are important because as technology advances, business models advance too. If you buy a physical book, it is easy to prove ownership. But if you buy a digital book, do you really own the book or have you just purchased a license to use the content of the digital download

Digital download technology allows us to have extensive collections of downloads in the form of music collections, book collections, movies, etc. The technology and business models of tech companies evolve so fast the legislation can hardly keep pace, and tech companies have no choice but to take control over the matter until the laws catch up.


So, what happens to digital purchases after death?

The simplest and easiest way to answer this question is to figure out whether a certain digital purchase is licensed (purchase of digital content) or owned.

What happens to purchased digital content when you die?

When you purchase digital content or a licensed digital product, the license does not give you ownership over the product. The license only gives you the right to use it while you are alive. You have no right to transfer the content to anyone else, for any reason, ever. When you pass on, the license passes away with you. 

This kind of digital purchase cannot be transferred to or inherited by another person.

So, be mindful when you purchase large and expensive collections of digital content.

You may see them as a digital inheritance for your family and loved ones, worth a lot of money, but in practice, they will probably become a burden – a digital legacy that can be sorted out and taken care of.

The good news is that there are digital asset management and digital inheritance services that can help you and your loved ones deal with the burden of these kinds of purchases.

What happens to owned digital assets when you die?

In this case, the situation is completely different. Owning a digital asset means that you have the legal authority to use, sell, destroy and transfer the asset to another person.

A digital asset doesn’t expire with your death, and it can be inherited.

Digital assets that can be transferred, sold, exchanged, donated, destroyed, etc. can be counted as property and so can be bequeathed through a will. 


Examples of digital content purchases and owned digital assets 

Digital content purchases

You purchase and own your Kindle or iPhone, but you don’t own the digital purchases stored on them, such as:

  • Kindle ebooks
  • iTunes songs and films

Digital assets

Examples of digital asset purchases:

  • Domain names
  • Funds kept in online accounts, such as neobanks
  • Cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin


Three useful tips to help deal with digital purchases after death

  1. To determine what happens to a digital purchase after death, we have to first define whether the purchase is digital content (licensed, not transferable) or a digital asset (owned and transferable).
  1. Second, to ensure that all these digital purchases will be handled in a proper way after you have passed on, you should have a catalog of your digital assets and accounts – with their credentials – stored and managed in a secure digital legacy service. By doing this, you will avoid leaving the fate of your digital purchases to chance.
  1. Third, after cataloging your digital assets and account credentials, designate your desired beneficiaries to them and make a will.

This way, you can control what happens to your digital purchases after death.


Ana Mineva
Co-founder of DGLegacy®, the digital legacy planning and inheritance app that protects your assets and secures your family when it matters the most. On a mission to build a better tomorrow for you and your loved ones!