So, you’ve crafted a plan for how you want your wealth, possessions and other assets to be distributed after you die. But what happens to your digital assets—online bank and investment accounts, social media profiles like Facebook and LinkedIn, and access to shopping sites like Amazon and Ebay?
This is a gray area with no definite rules for guidance. But it is possible to set up some common-sense directions to heirs that can help them manage the transfer of our digital presences along with our more tangible assets.
These are important plans to make while we are alive to make them. Because in the wake of our passing, our spouses, family members, and other loved ones will be dealing with grief. Managing the transfer of monetary assets will be difficult enough. Add to that the challenge of taking care of our digital legacy can create an emotionally overwhelming situation for our family members.
Complicating matters are the Terms of Service agreements we all agree to whenever we set up an online account or social media profile. Buried within the legal jargon in these agreements is language that spells out how our accounts can be closed out or transferred in the event of death.
It may seem easy enough just to give a family member access to these digital accounts by sharing usernames and passwords. But by clicking “I agree” in the Terms of Service agreements, we actually enter into a contract with the site manager. Sharing information like passwords with others is a violation of the contract, and can be considered an illegal offense according to federal law. i
Many companies are coming around to the challenges that come with legacy accounts and online profiles. For example, earlier in 2015 Facebook added the ability for users to name a “legacy contact” who can assume limited activity with your profile after you die. Other social media platforms like Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram also allow family to deactivate accounts, once they are provided certain documentation.ii
The best advice for taking care of your digital assets is to make a list of the primary accounts and profiles you have created. This list can be shared with someone you designate in your will. This person may not be able to log in to your account, but they can work with the site to wind down your account appropriately.
Your email address may be the most important of these digital assets to inform your beneficiaries about. Often, your email address can help identify you and be used to communicate vital information about your account.
You should also consider granting power of attorney to someone you trust. This may not help them much in bypassing the rules of the Terms of Service agreements. But assigning power of attorney at least makes your intentions clear in a legal document and can give this person some leverage or authority when carrying out your final wishes.
Most of all, do as much as you can about your digital assets in advance if only to help your family and loved ones deal with these complicated matters in a time of grief. Making their lives a little easier in your absence can make a tremendous difference when it may matter most.
If you are looking for more guidance on transferring assets or creating estate or legacy plans for your family, call us at (910) 815-3100 or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Contributing author AES Virtual Consulting
ii The Ashmore Law Firm, Living Well, October 2015, What Happens to Your Online Accounts After You Die?, October 2015, http://www.livingwellmag.com/what-happens-to-your-online-accounts-after-you-die/, Accessed November 20, 2017.
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