Most of us overlook the amount of information and assets we have online, from social media to networking websites, frequent flier miles, online bank accounts, subscriptions, photos, websites, etc. The list of most people’s digital assets has grown considerably in recent years, yet most have no plan for what should happen to those assets when their owner dies.
This is a growing problem, says MSN money, in an article making the case clear: “From Facebook to iTunes to Amazon, You Need A Digital Will!” Every website has legal requirements for dealing with the original owner’s death, almost always hidden deep within the Terms of Service Agreement we all click on without reading. Some have created processes for executors, while others have not. What can you do to make it easier for your executor?
Make a list of everything you access online. Be prepared to be surprised at just how much your life occurs online. Compile a list of all online accounts, usernames, and passwords. You probably have to do this bit by bit, as a marathon session might take a long time. Use either a password manager with top-notch security or a password-protected spreadsheet you update around once every three months.
This is especially important for accounts with monetary value. But sentimental value counts too. A side note: all those playlists you’ve created on iTunes? They are non-transferable, and when you die, they are deleted.
What do you want to have happen to each account? You’ll need to decide what you want to happen to each account and, depending on the account, state it clearly in what’s known as a directive. You may want to preserve some, or you may want to shut down others. Some free email accounts are automatically shut down if they are not used for a certain period. Others should be down immediately to prevent fraud. Scammers prefer accounts where the owners have died since they are often an easy entry to the person’s online identity.
Facebook is one of the platforms allowing you to designate a Legacy contact, so the person can memorialize the account, allowing only friends to see the page and removing some information. If you want to have the page deleted on death, Facebook provides directions.
Each platform has its own rules. Most rely on provisions regarding privacy protection: only the original owner is authorized to access the account. There are now federal and state laws prohibiting accessing private online data, which have created significant obstacles for loved ones to access digital assets. Unless you have a digital will, don’t expect anyone to resolve your digital accounts after you pass. Even with one, there might be issues.
Your estate planning attorney will help you add the correct language to your estate documents about what you want to happen to each account. It’s crucial to ensure that your estate plan gives your executor or other fiduciary authorization to access your digital assets and what you want to happen to them. Remember—don’t put account names, usernames, or passwords in a will, as it becomes a public document during the probate process.
Without an inventory of digital assets, it may be simply impossible to ascertain where digital assets are located and how to access them. Looking at credit card statements for autopayments may be a place to start, or at least to stop the autopayments.
Digital assets are a relatively new asset class, with laws varying from state to state. Speak with your estate planning attorney to ensure your digital assets are protected, as well as traditional assets, when creating or reviewing your estate plan.
Reference: MSN money (Dec. 19, 2021) “From Facebook to iTunes to Amazon, You Need A Digital Will!”