Estate Planning in the Digital Age

Who gets your Facebook account when you die? What happens to your Twitter? Your Instagram? Your e-mail account? The Digital Age and the advent of Internet- and cloud-based assets have created a new category of estate planning. Your Internet accounts are your property, and property stored online that has any value requires the same level of protection you give to other tangible and intangible assets.

You May Have More Digital Assets Than You Think

Cutting-edge technology continues to evolve at a rapid pace while estate planning and probate laws struggle to keep up. Some companies, such as Facebook, have private user agreements that allow you to designate someone to "inherit" your account after your death. Similarly, banks may allow you to transfer online access along with your account balance by naming a "pay on death" beneficiary. But there are many other assets that may not offer the same ability to control their disposition at your death, such as:

  • Online financial accounts (credit card, brokerage, retirement plan, credit, online payment and insurance)
  • Online retail accounts and apps
  • Digital wallets and prepaid apps
  • Social media accounts
  • Blogs and websites
  • E-mail accounts and text messages
  • Phone passcode
  • Software, music, movie, and television show collections
  • Photo and video-sharing sites

Digital estate planning is a relatively new area of law and regulations on the topic are sparse and incomplete. Oklahoma has laws mandating court orders or provisions in a will that allow executors to access e-mails, blogs, and other social networking accounts; however, this authorization applies only to personal representatives, so other fiduciaries (such as an attorney-in-fact) may be limited by the private terms-of-service agreements required by various companies hosting your digital accounts. For example, pursuant to their terms of service, a fiduciary is not allowed to access your Facebook or Gmail accounts; however, he or she may access your iTunes account if authorized.

Proactive Protection of Your Privacy and Legacy

Just as you would pass on assets to your loved ones, you should ensure that your family or other designated representative can open your online accounts for various reasons, including:

  • Accessing valuable assets that include bank and investment accounts
  • Downloading personal property, including photos and videos posted online
  • Removing an online presence to minimize reminders of the deceased
  • Deleting private data to prevent identity theft

Digital estate planning is not as simple as including screen names and passwords in your Will. In fact, because wills are made public when admitted to probate, putting that information in your Will means that your financial or social media accounts could be at risk when your estate enters probate. A better practice could be to list the information in a separate document but refer to it in your Will.

Take Action Sooner Rather Than Later

No one likes to think about death, but — like social media — it is a fact of life. So the next time you revise your estate plan, consider how you want to dispose of your digital assets. Your family is entitled to the peace of mind that comes with not only legal documents formally expressing your wishes, but also the proactive strategies necessary to protect your online legacy. Contact Postic & Bates today for a free, no-obligation consultation to determine how to incorporate your digital assets into your estate plan.

[As with all our posts, the contents of this article do not constitute legal advice and are subject to our site-wide disclaimer.]