Planning for Your Digital Estate

For better or worse, an increased number of our financial and personal activities are conducted and logged on-line. This can prove difficult when a person dies or becomes incapacitated. Activities as varied as the relatively unimportant maintenance (or shutting down) of a Facebook account, accessing important e-mails, and shutting down an automatic payment plan, may be stymied by lack of a user name or a password, and from a legal perspective these activities may not be authorized. In some instances, such unauthorized access is a federal crime.

Estate planners have turned their attention to solving these matters. The general advice is to (1) inventory your accounts, that is make a list of all your digital assets and keep it as a record where your executor or another trusted individual can find it; (2) provide direction to your executor or agent as to how you want certain assets handled, if you have any specific wishes in this regard (if you have an on-line bank account it is pretty easy for your executor to know what to do with it, if you have a Facebook account or a website, it may not be so obvious); and (3) identify in your Power of Attorney and your Will that your agent and executor, respectively, have the authority to handle these assets (there is in fact standard language that can be used, and it includes an authorization that eliminates the worry regarding the federal crime mentioned above).

Additionally, some social media sites themselves now provide solutions to the problem. For example, Facebook now opts to allow an account holder to designate a legacy individual who can access the site or to provide for account deletion after death.

– Rod Fluck

Posted in Estates / Wills, Newsletters