Do you know of someone who died, but their email and social media accounts continued for a while as if they were still alive? Or maybe a relative took control of a deceased person’s social media account to create a memorial page against the wishes of other family members? Have you heard stories of loved ones who had trouble gaining access to the deceased person’s cellphone to get to photos or contacts? These and similar situations arise because people don’t think about what will happen to their digital information.
Most of us have at least some online accounts and electronic data that family members would have to deal with in the event of our incapacity or death. Accordingly, as part of your estate planning it’s important to think about your digital assets. As a first step, you should put together a list of all email and other online passwords and make sure someone knows where to find it. However, that’s only one part of the planning process. Social media and email accounts, domain names, websites, online libraries of content (books, movies, music, photos, etc.) and the like can often be inherited like other assets. Some things may have more personal value than financial value, but either way individuals should think about who they want to have those assets. If some of those items do have financial value, then it’s crucial to make appropriate plans. Consider that electronic data can be inadvertently deleted if someone isn’t aware of its value. Sensitive or proprietary information could be revealed accidentally. Assets like domain names can be easily lost if not renewed and then bought by someone else.
Some accounts let you designate a contact who has limited access in the event of your death, but that may not work for all accounts and could conflict with provisions in your will. When it comes to online financial accounts, just because a person has a password doesn’t mean they can legally access accounts. Financial institutions have particularly strict rules regarding access.
The best thing to do is to talk with your attorney about how to handle your digital assets regardless of their value. Don’t leave your family with more stress if something happens to you.