You have spent years cultivating memories with your Facebook profile, curating an audience with your Twitter account, and building an incredibly efficient agricultural operation on FarmVille. But what happens to those accounts after your death? We recently wrote about the importance of protecting your digital assets, but what exactly does is involved in creating a digital estate plan?
Tip #1: Make an inventory of digital assets and how to access them.
This is a bit of a catch-22. We usually recommend that our clients keep a list of any accounts, usernames, and passwords on a piece of paper so their representatives will know how to access those accounts after your death. However, if all of that information is in one place, anyone who steals the list could hack into your accounts. So if you prefer to play it safe, consider writing the accounts and usernames on one piece of paper, and passwords and other security information on another — keeping one in a safe at home, and the other in your safety deposit box.
However you decide to store this information, creating an inventory of digital assets will make it much easier for your loved ones to access your Internet accounts after your death. Your digital inventory could include the following:
- Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and other social media accounts
- Wordpress, Tumblr, Blogger, and other blogs and websites you own
- Bank, credit card, brokerage, retirement plan, credit, loan, insurance, and other accounts you access and/or pay online
- E-mail accounts
- Online retail accounts
- Apps from stores or marketplaces like eBay, Amazon, and iTunes
- Photo- or video-sharing sites like Flickr or YouTube
- Video subscription sites like Netflix, Huhu, or Amazon Prime
- Music sites like Spotify or Pandora
- PayPal or other online payment accounts
- Utility bills you pay online
- Frequent flier accounts
Additionally, if you use a “digital wallet” or Passport product on your cell phone — like the Starbucks app that lets you pay for orders from your phone — this might also be worth adding to the list. Update this inventory regularly or, ideally, whenever you add a new account or change account information.
Tip #2: Store the information in a safe place.
As illustrated above, security should always be a concern when it comes to storing this sensitive information. Outside of physical options like a safety deposit box, some websites like Legacy Locker or SecureSafe securely encrypt and store your account information and passwords in one place. I personally use LastPass, which has a free (but still secure) option as well as a paid subscription that costs only $1/month. Most of these sites allow you to designate a beneficiary who can get access to the account after your death, making it easy to pass on your account information to your heirs or representatives.
Tip #3: Name a “digital executor.”
This can be the same person you name as executor of your estate in your Will, or you can name someone else to carry out your digital wishes. If you do choose to designate a separate person to manage your digital assets, you may also consider naming him or her as your digital executor in your Will, detailing what assets they can control and where they can find information to access those accounts.
Some websites allow you to automate the transfer of your digital assets after your death. One example is Google's Inactive Account Manager. Here's how it works: You give Google instructions for what to do with your accounts after your death (i.e., either share them with someone(s) or delete them). If you are inactive for a certain period of time (you can decide how long), Google will send you a text or email alert. If you do not respond, Google will notify the friends or family members whose contact information you provided. Once they have confirmed that you are deceased, Google will follow your instructions and either share those accounts with the designated individual(s) or delete the accounts as you have provided.
Similarly, Facebook has given users the option of identifying a "legacy contact" that can access your account after your death. But that access is limited to the ability to pin a post on your Timeline, such as a funeral announcement. Your legacy contact will not be able to log in as you or read your private messages, but they will have the ability to accept or deny new friend requests, update your profile and cover photos, and archive your posts and photos.
Even though these "legacy" processes are automated, it is important to let your executor know that have set up those options, so he or she does not have to figure out what to do with those accounts.
Tip #4: Write instructions for what should happen to your digital assets.
Your Will probably lays out the distribution of your online financial accounts, but what do you want to happen to your Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram profiles? Consider writing out a "to-do" list to let you digital executor know, among other things, whether they should delete your accounts. It should answer questions such as:
- Should your digital executor deactivate your Facebook account when you die, or do you want him or her to set it up as a memorial page?
- Do you want your executor to send prints of your Flickr photos to your family members?
- Do you want to give someone control of any unused iTunes credits you have?
- Do you want any personal videos uploaded to YouTube for friends and family to see (or taken off of YouTube so they don't see them)?
As you create this to-do list, be sure to review the terms of service on your social media accounts. Often times, those agreements take precedent over state laws. For example, Facebook allows your "legacy contact" to either “memorialize” your profile so family and friends can still see it and post on your wall, or Facebook can deactivate the profile at the request of your family.
Twitter, on the other hand, only gives the option of deactivating your account. To do this, your digital executor would need to fax Twitter copies of your death certificate and government-issued ID (e.g., driver’s license), along with a signed and notarized statement of your death, and either a link to an online obituary or a copy of the obituary from a local paper.
Tip #5: Talk to a Qualified Estate Planning Attorney.
As with all things legal, we recommend you work with a qualified estate planning attorney to ensure that your wishes are carried out properly. In today's world, it is common for people to have most of their lives online: personal information, pictures, articles, memories. To avoid the uncertainty of what happens to your online accounts after your death, you should consider what you want to happen to all that information. Contact Postic & Bates today for a free, no-obligation consultation to discuss how you can incorporate 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.]