Wednesday, January 4, 2017

What Happens to Social Media Accounts When Someone Dies?

Have you ever considered what would happen to your social media accounts and digital assets if you were to die? 

There are steps you can take right now, AND you can make "digital asset planning" part of your Estate Plan.   

  1. You can have language put in your will that ultimately leaves your digital assets to a certain beneficiary and/or specifies that your Executor will be able to access and terminate or distribute these accounts. 
  2. Some sites allow you to name a "legacy" owner. Facebook, for instance, allows you to name someone who has your authority to take over your Facebook account if you pass away. 
  3. Some password programs allow you to "share" the information with another person immediately, insuring that the person that you trust will have access to all your passwords should something happen to you (even a temporary disability that leaves you unable to act.)
  4. Powers of attorney that allow someone to act for you if you are unable to do so are part of a complete estate plan.  You can specify access to digital accounts as one of the powers that you give your Agent.  This will allow someone to access these accounts if you are living, but unable to act for  yourself. 
  5. Don't put your specific passwords, screen names, account numbers or login information in your legal documents.   Your Will and Powers of Attorney will eventually be seen my many eyes and may even be filed in court records.   Keep a separate list (digitally or hard copy) in a safe, accessible place, free from prying eyes. Update it as needed. 
  6. Don't use the same password for everything, and don't use "common" passwords like "1234".
  7. Keep in mind that many things today are tied to online access. For instance, if you no longer accept hard copy billing statements and pay all of  your bills online it may be difficult or impossible for someone to get access to your accounts to pay your monthly bills without some type of legal documentation such as a power of attorney, court order, or letter of representation from an estate attorney). So you may need to be certain that you make certain passwords accessible to a trusted person. 
  8. You may own digital assets that are intellectual property. These include graphics, websites, platforms, apps, blogs and the like. This is property that will pass to your beneficiaries so make sure that you leave the proper identification, access information and practical instructions in an accessible place and make sure you include these in your estate plan. 
  9. Untended accounts that are left to languish can create a security and privacy risk for your estate if a hacker obtains private information from an unguarded account. 
  10. A wills and estate attorney can help you plan for the practicalities of your individual situation, as well as drafting your legal documents for you.

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