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Is Analog Better than Digital in Your Estate?

Written by Sarah Gilbert - 5 Comments

Is Analog Better than Digital in Your Estate?

I am going to my parents’ house this weekend, and my favorite part of the visit is always standing in front of my moms’ bookshelves, gazing at all those lovely books that will one day surely be handed down to me and my siblings. I don’t know if many of them are valuable, but there is a lot of irreplaceability in those shelves; whole series, fun mid-century titles like Trixie Belden (what I used my birthday money for three years running) and Cherry Ames, and encyclopedic “child’s treasury” books. The Louis L’Amour my dad and I devoured for years when we lived in Montana (and source of all my knowledge about using your peripheral vision to watch out for bandits when you’re alone on the dark range).

But hang on, say many of my friends; those are dust collectors, taking up valuable space. Let’s go minimalist and put it all on our iPads and Kindles and Nooks! There are all kinds of arguments for this practice, from the (sometimes) cheaper retail prices of e-books to the ease of moving. I have all kinds of arguments against it, including the way I love to discover old notes and markings in garage sale and thrift store books, and how nice it is to be able to flip back and forth to maps and images and important details about the characters. And I just like to look at books, and have them in my hand.

What about your estate?

It’s easy to transfer ownership of my parents’ Trixie Belden and Louis L’Amour books. Simple, we put them into a box, and drive them to my house. Attorneys from the publishers do not have to be consulted and, likely, none of my siblings will mourn (and I happen to have the most bookshelves in the family). But not so for the growing collections of e-books, like those of some of my friends who have made the conversion from paper to digital with gusto.

I’ll bet my friends Mara and Raven have a few thousands of dollars’ worth of books on their Kindles and iPads. A software engineer and entrepreneur, Raven is an early adopter and Mara is an avid reader. But they could be on rocky ground when it comes to passing along their digital library to their grandkids. As SmartMoney points out, “Apple and Amazon grant nontransferable rights to use content.”

You can’t give it away what you don’t own

The same thing is true of music. While it’s possible to share Apple-device music with your family by signing in to iTunes on several different devices owned by the family members, there’s a legal grey area when it comes to bequeathing accounts. And certainly, you could offer your iPod to your inheritors and they would have access to all the songs there (for as long as the device survived). But you can’t divvy them up.

If your son loves jazz and hates country, and your daughter feels the opposite, in this scenario you’d have to choose one genre to live on after you were gone, and give the device to that child. It seems overwhelmingly likely that your digital content, far from lasting forever, will simply be forgotten when you’re gone.

The intangible is hard to put in an estate sale

The average Apple iOS user (anyone using an Apple device beginning with an “i”) spends an average of $150 a year on digital content. Some of this, to be sure, is extra eagles in Angry Birds and other things that are gone forever. But it’s likely to only grow as more people shift from analog to digital content.

Let’s say you spend $20,000 on digital content over your lifetime, and then you pass on. Your heirs cannot hold an estate sale to sell your books, movies, tunes, and apps. They cannot split up the content and may not be able to use it when your device expires. What could have been worth $5,000 or $10,000 in an estate sale is, essentially, gone.

Power to the paper and plastic!

It may still not make sense for your life to stick with the archaic paper books and plastic disks. But it’s at least worth thinking about every time you go to click “purchase” on your device. This is not an asset; you are paying to use the book, music or video for some limited time that will not survive you. If you’re fine with that, go ahead — click away! Just remember, this is not a family heirloom. So budget wisely.

Note from Nickel: In the time since Sarah drafted this piece, Bruce Willis was reported to have filed suit against Apple over his inability to bequeath his iTunes library to his kids. Though the story was quickly refuted, it’s still a very interesting issue.

Published on September 6th, 2012
Modified on September 18th, 2012 - 5 Comments
Filed under: Planning

About the author: Sarah Gilbert, blogger by trade and finance geek at heart, has worked in investment banking, dotcom management, software development, and managing blogs on everything from babies to stocks.

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5 Responses to “Is Analog Better than Digital in Your Estate?”

  1. 1
    William @ Drop Dead Money Says:

    Good point! Of course, it assumes that there is someone around who still values the analog by the time one passes away. How true is that any more?

    When you go to Africa, you see kids play with boxes, empty toilet rolls and scrap pieces of wire. In America kids grow up with an ephemeral array electronic gadget of some sort. Anybody remember Nintendo GameBoys any more?

    Analog kids don’t know digital and the digital kids don’t know analog. And what you know tends to define what you value. You grew up with books (and a father), but how many kids today have a Louis L’Amour loving Montana father?

    You value what you knew growing up.

    “You value…” That’s the defining phrase. What do today’s kids value? I don’t know. Can it be that someone will be writing an article ten years from now about stumbling upon a GameBoy with Tetris? Imagine him describing the universe coming to a standstill at the sight of that source of childhood comfort. And the thrill when he turned it on and the Tetris bricks fell, just like they did decades ago?

    If your kids/grandkids don’t value what you leave, what’s the point in leaving it? As for the digital, let’s be honest – most people won’t split up the music collection – they’ll simply copy it on two hard drives and give each kid one.

    Not that that will necessarily be of any value. “What? Who’s Frank Sinatra? Abba – seriously?” They’ll probably just erase the music and use the drives for other things.

    And the analog (the digital analog in the case of hard drives) will rule the day yet again. Maybe. Who wants an 80gb hard drive today? It was only three years ago people still bought them…

    And the kids in Africa will continue playing with their selfmade wireframe toy cars. Who knows, those might have been made by dads or grandpas.

    In the end, it’s all about memories. It’s the memory surrounding your books that gives them value. Memories made by your dad and you. It might be the Tetris memories that make a future heir value a GameBoy a few years from now.

    What memories are you making? And with whom? If you have tons of digital pictures of fun-filled vacations, those are what will be valued – digital or analog doesn’t matter.

    It’s all about the memories.

  2. 2
    Lance @ Money Life and More Says:

    I had never really thought of this. If there is a book I want to read multiple times chances are I will get it in a physical form. I don’t think my eventual kids are going to care about the music I listen to these days though. Plus they sell so much of it now that I doubt any of it will really be valuable in a digital format anyway.

  3. 3
    PennySaved Says:

    The problem with passing down anything digital is that technology changes too fast with time. I remember from my uncle’s estate boxing up a lot of 3.5 inch computer disks that had his genealogical research files on them to give to his nephew. I know that he used a particular software to track the family connections, that the average person probably does not have. How are people going to access the data without the same software program? And newer computers don’t use the floppy disks.

    I have the same problem. Lots of family research data in digital form. When I retire, I plan to put the information together in a report format and print it out. Something that later generations can read instantly and see immediately what it is. A bunch of files on outdated medium will probably not be accessed or used by anybody.

    I am old enough to remember using things like microfiche, 8-track music tapes, vinyl record albums, Zip drives, the 5″ real floppy disks. Next CDs will be obsolete. Remember VHS videotapes. We have a bookcase in my condo lobby where we leave and exchange free books. People also leave VHS videotapes, but they tend to pile up because less people have the tape players for them.

  4. 4
    Jonathan Says:

    @PennySaved, you’re right… For anything you really care about (for yourself or others down the line), you have to upgrade the media over time. Copy those floppies to CDs and then DVDs, and now Blu-Ray or USB drives. Just like you would protect those original hard copy books, you have to take care of these new formats as well. Most people never consider this, of course, but it is easy enough to pay a camera shop to transfer old home movies to DVD for example. (or DIY).

    Great article.

  5. 5
    Thad P Says:

    The iTunes concern is real, but it is far from the only one. The whole idea of your digital afterlife seems way up in the air. For instance, while we may not own digital music, want to bet what Google, Apple, etc. will think about the owner of data about you once you are no longer among the breathing? I guarantee they won’t give that data up.

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