Today, whether we are young or old, a significant portion of our lives are lived online. The internet has long since departed from its ‘nerdy’ origins to become a part of our everyday lives. No matter how you surf the Net–online banking, bill paying, or simply connecting with distant friends–you have no doubt accumulated an impressive array of digital assets.
There’s a term that didn’t exist in the last millennium! Your digital assets consist of a variety of things: everything from the vitally important (like account information and passwords), to the personally precious (like photos, videos, and more). When you pass on, all that will continue to exist, yet risks being lost forever if your loved ones lack full documentation of what you have and how to access it. What will become of your digital assets?
Though you surely will not have much use for all that data once you are gone, you still need to consider what will become of it all. All too frequently in the last decade, we have heard stories of families pining after the little things lost: photos, emails, and even social media accounts.
Policies of Major Websites
Fortunately, many of the major websites have adopted policies aimed at granting families the option to access or simply deactivate their deceased loved one’s online accounts:
Google’s vast line of online products and services are all centralized to a single user account. If you have one, it may greatly cut down on the amount of log-ins and passwords you will need to provide your loved ones.
Recently, Google finally addressed the problem of dealing with your digital estate: the Inactive Account Manager allows Google users to designate a beneficiary who will receive access to all their Google products after the passing of a set amount of time (don’t worry, you can pick and choose if you’d prefer some not be unlocked).
Your personal Facebook page can serve as an online memorial to your life, frozen forever in time. Facebook requires that your loved ones or friends submit a request to their Memorialization Page and requires that they provide evidence of the passing with a death certificate or published obituary.
Similar to Facebook’s, LinkedIn has an online form allowing your loved ones to remove your LinkedIn profile from the website. The required information you will need to provide is more extensive than that required by Facebook, please see the form for full details.
Twitter is the youngest of these services and unfortunately provides the least ease of use. The company requires that your loved ones mail a copy of the death certificate, of the obituary, of your ID, and proof that the individual truly owned the account. We hope that this will change in the future, but it may simply be easier to leave the login info behind and have your loved ones delete it manually, as outlined below.
Yahoo also requires a more burdensome process, and unlike Twitter does not have its age as an excuse. It will be necessary that your loved ones mail paper copies of the death certificate, a document appointing you the executor of the estate or personal representative of the deceased, and a letter with the Yahoo ID of the deceased. Yahoo does not allow for the transfer of any information or preservation of the account. Please see below for an alternative that is easier on you and your loved ones.
An Easier Alternative?
While some online services provide a simple process, a great many will force your loved ones to jump through hoops to finally deal with your digital assets. Fortunately, there is an easier way:
Many people already have a list of their online accounts and passwords for their personal use, either on paper or in a digital document. Afterall, balancing the dual needs of having a secure, varied passwords and actually remembering them all is difficult. You might add to this a list of the locations of other important documents on your computer or backed up elsewhere. Just make sure they know where to find this list!
Decide on keep or delete:
Leaving your loved ones access information for your online banking may be vital, but maybe you don’t really care about the preservation of the more frivolous sites you’ve no doubt accumulated over time. Go over what really matters and decide on what needs to be tossed before leaving your list behind for your family.
Designate a digital executor:
Do you already have an executor named in your estate plan? Unless you wish otherwise, they will be the one to deal with your digital assets after your passing. DO NOT write your accounts and passwords in your will! Your will will be a matter of public record upon your death and will be targeted by identity thieves.
If you have already named an executor in your estate plan, you may want the same person to handle the disposition of your digital assets. If not, then designate someone in your will to handle this task. Do NOT include your accounts and passwords in your will! These are public documents and can easily be stolen by identity thieves. Leave your list somewhere safe and perhaps protected with a password, itself.
To review an existing estate plan or create one for yourself and your family that includes the management of your digital assets, call our office today at 612-206-3700 or via our online contact form to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk about it in a family estate planning consultation.
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