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Digital Estate Planning: Domain Name Succession

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Clients with businesses, blogs, nonprofits, art projects, and various hobbies are likely to own a domain name. Domain names are the string of text typically followed by ‘.com’, ‘.org’, or the like that grant users access to websites. Domain names can be very expensive and need to be paid for annually otherwise they will expire and become available for purchase. If a domain name is set to expire shortly after its owner passes away and the fiduciary is not quick to act and pay that bill, the domain name will expire and likely get bought up, especially if it is valuable. Similarly, if a fiduciary is not properly set up to take control of a domain, they may only have the ability to pay the subscription and not to sell the domain name, which could be a significant financial loss.
Let’s review some terminology before getting into this. A domain name, as described above, is a string of letters, numbers, and/or hyphens with a period separating the top-level domain from the second-level domain (the top-level domain comes after the period, like ‘com’ in ‘bequest.com’.) Separately, a web host provider is a software service that provides the tech and services needed for websites to be viewable on the internet. Finally, code is provided, either by individuals or services like Wordpress, which defines the website’s content. Some companies will offer both domain name and web host services, but usually they are distinct. This is because web hosting services offered by domain name providers tend to be less comprehensive in their service offering.
When purchasing a domain name, the client will firstly pay a potentially hefty upfront fee, followed by a potentially equally hefty annual fee to retain the domain name. This can get a bit complicated, but, for example, the domain name ‘a.online’ costs $16,249.99 upfront, and $31,249.99 every year thereafter at renewal at the time of writing. ‘Bequest.com’ cost $30,000 upfront (originally $50,000 but we were able to negotiate), but only costs about $20/year for renewal. Suffice it to say, it is worthwhile to ask your client how much they paid for their domain name, as they can be valuable assets.
Besides the financial value of a domain name, they are very logistically important. Firstly, if a domain name is not renewed in time and expires, it is very likely that it will be purchased by a stranger with no way of recovering it. Especially if the domain name is expensive or in-demand, it will be swept up by domain name broker bots. Given that domain names need to be renewed annually, fiduciaries need to act quickly. If the associated credit card has been canceled, or auto-renew is not turned on, the fiduciary will need to get billing access before the domain name expires. Web hosts also need to be paid annually at the risk of the website being taken offline, but this is less of an issue as the website will simply be put back online when a payment is made. So, the first step for fiduciaries is to make sure domain names are not about to expire and pay the renewal fee as needed.
If a fiduciary wants to sell a domain name, they will need to take control of the domain name, which is different from accessing billing rights. Each domain name provider deals with domain name control differently. Some require that action be taken before the original owner passes, others require that a fiduciary can access the decedent’s email account, and some have no clear process, instead recommending to clients that “[their] passwords must be accessible in [their] Will.” For those of you who are not planning professionals, Wills become public, so leaving your passwords in a Will is a horrible idea. Do not do that.
Additional complications, like whether a client wants their website to remain online once they pass, requires more complex planning. Bequest.com has automated domain name planning, and it will be available in a few weeks. Easy, compliant planning in just a few clicks will protect your client and their digital assets for life. Book a demo with us if you’d like to learn more!
See you next time!
Source: Namecheap

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