As Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other online services play larger and larger roles in our lives it’s surprising that so few of us think of our online presence when drafting our wills. Though these electronic records will likely outlive us all, existing online in some for or another perhaps forever, few of us take stock of our internet accounts and make plans for their disposition after our death.
Online calendars, Google Documents, social media profiles, pictures, journals, you name it, they’ve got it online. Electronic accounts hold more valuable information than many of us may at first believe. A 2011 study by McAfee found that the average American values their unprotected online assets at close to $55,000. This isn’t purely sentimental either as these “assets” can include vital career information, personal documents, health records, music, movies and more. The problem is that it’s rare for anyone to take steps to protect this “assets” something that will start happening more and more as estate planning enters the digital era.
Charley Moore, founder of an online legal document website summed the electronic changes up this way: “It’s a big digital world out there, and increasingly cherished memories and more are in online accounts. Sixty-three percent of people don’t know they have to protect those digital assets in their wills.”
Different sites have different rules about what happens to personal accounts upon a user’s death. Twitter will retire a dead user’s account and provide an archive of their tweets, but only if the account has been made public. Electronic photo-sharing site Flicker will cooperate with a deceased user’s family to help them access the account and close it, should that be their desire. But before they can help you gain access they’ll need a death certificate.
Facebook has a slightly different approach and is willing to let accounts stay up but in a kind of suspended animation. Profiles of the recently departed will no longer show up as friend suggestions and no one is permitted to log in and make updates, but their page will remain as a place to post notes and remembrances. The staff their will also remove a page entirely, but only at the behest of a person’s legal representative.
Though the vast majority of people say that they want their wills to resolve all issues and avoid any potential for disputes among their surviving friends and family, not everyone thinks of their electronic footprint when crafting the document. One thing concerned users can do is to name a “digital executor” in their estate plan. This person can be authorized to manage your online accounts according to your wishes as long as you clearly spell out your permission granting them this authority.
Those with digital assets to protect should sit down and draw up a list of every account they possess and then write down what you want done with it. Also describe in detail how you want the data (whether it’s pictures, movies, blog entries, etc.) managed.
Given that your online persona will live on for years into the future it’s important that you lay out how you want the information to be handled. If you have questions or concerns, contact the Huntsville wills and estates attorneys at Martinson & Beason, P.C. today.
Source: “What Not to Forget When Writing Your Will,” by Farnoosh Torabi, published atFinance.Yahoo.com.