Protecting Your Radio Station’s Digital Assets After You Die

Several years ago, as we were launching a radio station affiliate website, we discovered that neither the station nor the station owner owned the domain name they were using.  The owner, who wasn’t very tech-savvy, knew a good friend in town that was knowledgeable and so he hired him, for a nominal monthly fee, to handle everything relating to the domain and the station e-mail accounts.  On learning this, I immediately told him that he needed to at least get the domain name under his name or the station’s name in case anything happened to his friend.  Not wanting to hurt his friend’s feelings, he kept things as they were.

Fast forward 5 years and I get a call from this station owner saying, “You were right, Jim.  You told me to get that domain name and unfortunately, my friend has just unexpectedly passed away.  What do I do?”

This owner spent the next two months proving to the domain registrar who he was to retain that domain name and not lose the website he has spent years building a local news brand around.  He had to present a death certificate, show IRS records proving he was the station owner, the whole lot.

More recently, a similar thing happened to another client who bought a group of radio stations from the family of an owner who had passed away.  That previous owner was very hands-on.  So, when he passed, he took with him the passwords to the domain registrar and e-mail hosting provider.  Once the payments from the previous owner eventually stopped, the domain switched off and the e-mails stopped coming in.  There was nothing the new owner to do but change domain names and essentially start over building his radio website from scratch.  Imagine everything that needed to be changed from the e-mail addresses, on-air promos, business cards, everything.

As I look back on these stories, I must ask myself (and I hope you do too), “What would happen to my company’s online assets if I unexpectedly took a trip to Heaven?” I have a business partner, but I essentially hold the keys to everything including server passwords, my server admin’s contact information, e-mail accounts, the newsletter, this podcast account, and each of the social media networks.

If my wife, children, or a business colleague could not access these accounts to at least hand them off to someone else, they would essentially last if the payments were being made with my credit card.  Nobody could change ownership of them though and remember, that the cards I used to pay for these services have expiration dates too.  Eventually, things will start breaking.

So, this week let’s talk exit strategy for your digital assets.  And even if you’re the Highlander and can divinely live forever, this is good information to have available in case you decide to sell your radio station at any point.

What Are Your Digital Assets?

“Digital assets” covers two broad areas: Ownership and Access and Privacy.  These can also take on many forms:

  • Intellectual property rights (domain names, images, music, blogs, written articles, podcast content, and computer files)
  • Business assets (cloud storage, podcast service, newsletter service, streaming provider, website host, etc)
  • Personal assets (email accounts, chats, texts, social media accounts)
  • Financial assets (online bank accounts, PayPal, etc)

If you want to ensure your radio station’s digital assets continue to operate or that they can be transferred elsewhere in your absence, then it pays to know what you can and cannot redistribute after you’ve gone.

Each platform will have its terms and conditions, so you may need to contact them individually to see what your rights are and whether any future income will go to your beneficiaries.  Sometimes, a username and password is all it takes to transfer a service.

The Show Must Go On

Your radio station’s digital portfolio may cover many parts of your personal life, so it helps to break the process down your exit strategy into three simple steps.

1) Make a Digital Inventory

If you sit down and write a list of every application, website, and online service that requires a username and password, you would be astounded. There’s a lot of essential information locked behind virtual doors – and your heirs and executor won’t have the keys unless you leave them behind.

And, not only passwords, but more and more services require two-factor authentication synced with your cell phone or e-mail service.  What if that phone is gone and nobody can access your e-mail account?

Write down a list of all your digital assets including every username and password.  If you click “Forgot Password”, include which e-mail gets the reset link.  If you have personal contacts at these locations, be sure to include their information as well.  Also, include which service also requires two-factor authentication with a phone or e-mail to access the account.  Which phone number and which e-mail address is needed?

This process will take some time, but it’s essential to ensure that your radio station’s online presence will continue unaffected by your absence.

You may want to consider renewing your domains many years in advance. You can renew most domains for up to ten years at a time. If you become sick or temporarily unable to manage your domains, this gives you and your loved ones plenty of time to renew or transfer the domains. While renewing in advance costs a bit more money, it can be more cost-effective than renewing each year.

2) Write a Digital Will/Estate Plan

You can choose who you’d like to take over your digital assets when you pass. It could be an individual, an organization, or both.

If you’re a sole proprietor, then your business assets are indistinguishable from you, and will be distributed according to your will.

If your station is an LLC (limited liability company), then your digital assets may go to your business partners or shareholders.  Make sure you know the regulations in your state, especially if an asset involves inheritance tax.

3) Name a Digital Executor

If you write down all your passwords and provide a way for a loved one or manager at the radio station to obtain access to your digital assets, then going through the process of assigning a digital executor may not be required.

However, if don’t feel comfortable writing everything down but you’re still serious about protecting your digital assets, then a nominating digital executor is the way to go.  Your nominee will require a death certificate, a grant of probate, and their executor’s ID to gain access to your accounts.  This gives them a legal position to ensure your assets continue after you’re gone.

Some of the tasks bestowed to a digital executor include:

  • Managing your files, photos, video, podcasts, and other assets you’ve created on the web.
  • Taking control of your phone data and transferring its assets (photos, voice messages, texts) over to nominated beneficiaries.
  • Maintaining your radio station’s online presence, which may involve ensuring your direct debits for web hosting services, such as SSL and domains, are paid.
  • Collecting and transferring online money to your beneficiaries.
  • Informing social media, online communities, digital friends, and the business community of your death.

Just remember, if you don’t leave passwords behind, it’s substantially more work for your executor to gain access to your accounts.  The process of submitting the proper documentation could take weeks to approve depending on the service provider.

If you have a traditional will but didn’t include your online passwords or name a digital executor, then you can do so by contacting a lawyer or legal service.  State laws are in flux when it comes to digital assets.  Making sure your estate plan is consistent with state law is very important.

Just a Bit of Preparation

Thinking about something bad happening in the future is never fun. But it’s the reality and it’s why people buy insurance and create a will. Don’t overlook your radio station’s digital assets. If you hold the keys to everything, those assets could vanish if something happens to you.  Plan now and communicate that plan with your family, station team, and trusted advisors.

And, if someone other than you or your station holds the keys to any of your digital assets, get control over those right away.  You don’t want to wait until something happens to them that may put your brand assets in jeopardy.

Need help with your radio station website?  We’re passionate about seeing stations succeed.  Reach out to us.

Jim Sherwood serves as the chief creative, brand strategist, lead developer, meticulous project manager, and station collaborator for all Skyrocket Radio sites and projects. Jim is a 30-year radio veteran with a resume spanning several small, medium, and large markets including roles as Digital Content Director, Program Director, Production Manager, and Morning Show Host.