Can You Include iTunes, eBooks in Your Will?

By Andrew Chow, Esq. on August 29, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Can you include your iTunes or MP3 music library in your will? What about your eBooks and other digital purchases?

The answers aren't entirely clear, as digital estate planning is a new realm for virtually everyone. But it's increasingly becoming an issue.

The average American spends about $30 per month on eBooks and digital music purchases, according to a survey cited by MarketWatch. (Compare that to the self-proclaimed owner of the world's largest iTunes collection: He touted 170,000 MP3s in his possession, and that was back in 2007.)

With so much money invested in digital purchases, what's the problem with giving away your iTunes or eBooks when you die, perhaps as part of your will?

The issue lies in the fine print that most people typically ignore when they agree to purchase digital files, MarketWatch reports.

Technically (and legally) speaking, a customer doesn't actually own the digital file she downloads -- rather, she owns only a license to use the digital file.

Amazon's terms of use spell this out: "You do not acquire any ownership rights in the software or music content."

Apple's iTunes also stipulates that digital downloads can only be used by the account holder, on a limited number of devices. A customer's right to use her downloaded purchases cannot be transferred, according to MarketWatch.

This means when a person dies, her iTunes library and eBooks will technically follow her to her grave. But there are some possible ways around this. For example, you can:

  • Simply give your loved ones your passwords so they can access your devices and accounts after your death. However, there's a chance you may encounter legal issues about licensing and ownership.

  • Consult with an experienced estate-planning lawyer to create a legal trust for your digital assets. Some types of trusts allow you to continue to use your assets while you're alive, and then transfer your assets to someone else when you die. But again, those pesky issues about digital file ownership may come into play.

Experts say we'll soon need new laws about including your iTunes files and eBooks in your will. Some states have recently passed laws about inheriting email and social-networking accounts, but the laws have yet to cover digital purchases, MarketWatch reports.

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