More and more, individuals are living their lives online. From social media to financial accounts to emails and messaging, individuals create a vast online presence that lives on after they die. Therefore, the integration of digital assets into an individual’s estate plan is becoming increasingly important.
Because individuals are conducting such a large part of their lives online, it can quickly become problematic when family members cannot access these accounts after a loved one’s death. In previous generations, if a person died without providing information on his or her financial accounts to his or her beneficiaries, the beneficiaries would be able to follow a paper trail to determine what accounts the decedent held. With the emergence of fully online account management, however, these paper trails are becoming obsolete.
Importantly, digital assets should be considered as part of your overall estate plan. You’ll begin by making a list of all your online accounts. Include the Web address for the account, login name, password, and answers to security questions for each. Importantly, keep this document with your other estate planning documents so your trustee or executor can access those accounts after your death.
For the more social aspects of the Internet, Google has introduced a new Inactive Account Manager. This allows individuals who use Google services can control what will happen to their accounts after a prolonged period of inactivity. If the account holder does not log into his or her accounts for a specified period of time, the person’s content will either be forwarded to a designated person, or permanently deleted. Facebook offers a similar feature, allowing accounts of deceased users to be “memorialized” after death.