What happens to your digital presence upon death?

As you get older, you may start preparing various estate planning documents. You may decide to create a trust to put aside money for your children’s future or create a will to distribute valuable assets to family members. However, tangible assets are not the only thing you should be concerned with as you approach estate planning. Experts advise that you should also make a plan to handle your social media accounts and digital presence.

From sharing photos on Facebook to texting loved ones with a smartphone, technology has become a major part of people’s everyday lives. As the years go by, you will likely continue to create and accumulate more and more data. While there are clear laws dictating how to handle physical property upon death, handling digital property can be less clear. So far, there is a uniform law, adopted by 39 state legislatures, that allows people to give the executor of their estate access to their email and social media upon their death. In order to give this access, people must mention it in their wills.

How do these executors access the accounts? While the uniform law does not specifically say how to do this, as of now, the executor generally has to contact the company storing the information. In states without the uniform law, the company has the power to decide whether to allow the executor access to the deceased’s accounts.

As you continue to go through the estate planning process, make sure you keep track of your digital accounts. Create a list of the accounts you have and give written instructions as to what your executor should do with those accounts. You may ask your executor to access certain accounts and delete others. Your will becomes a public document when you die, so do not include passwords and usernames in the document. You may want to use password management software to store your account information and give your executor instructions on how to find it. You may also want to consult with the companies in charge of your accounts to see what they do in the event of user death.

Source: Scientific American, “Estate Planning for Your Digital Assets,” Natalie Banta, Feb. 7, 2018