Most people understand that when they die, they will leave behind certain assets, such as a house, cars, and other personal property. However, in today’s world of the internet and social media, one asset that often gets left out of estate planning is digital media, such as accounts for Facebook, iTunes, and other accounts that require private login information and have separate agreements for each user. For example, in the United States, 70% of 65-74 year-olds are on Facebook, where there are 30 million accounts that belong to people who have died. As pointed out in a recent Smart Company article titled “The business of digital life and death”, the issues surrounding what happens to these digital assets when you die can be complex.
Each website has its own policy on dealing with accounts and the privacy of users, so dealing with these digital assets can be cumbersome and time-consuming, depending on how many different accounts a user had when he or she died. For example, Facebook protects the privacy of a deceased person by securing the account, although a family member can request that the account be removed or memorialized. Twitter will allow an immediate family member or a representative of your estate to deactivate your account. Google has developed an inactive account manager which gives a person access to your account if you die. This feature also allows you to set a timer that notifies the person that you have authorized to access the account if you do not login for a certain number of days.
Each company’s rules are different when it comes to handling accounts after you die, so how what do you do? The best thing you can do is to read and know what each company’s policies are when dealing with deceased account holders. You should also keep a list of your User ID and password for each account and store it in a safe place along with your will, such as in a safe deposit box. If you store the passwords electronically, you should store them in a password-protected file and store the password for the file in a safe place along with your other important legal documents.
As the laws continue to develop in the area of digital assets in estate planning, the rules will become clearer and dealing with these assets should become more routine. You should speak with your estate planning attorney to ensure that your digital assets are coordinated along with the rest of your estate plan.
Reference: Smart Company (August 27, 2014) “The business of digital life and death”