Digital Assets

What Happens to Your Online Account When You Die?

So much of our life is spent online. We access our bank accounts, send emails, connect with friends, store family photos, and spend hours on social media. Have you considered what happens to these online accounts when you’re gone? Who will have access to your email? Will your family be able to post on your Facebook page? Will your heirs be able to find the money you’ve worked hard to accumulate? Our increasing dependence on computers causes questions about digital assets to expand constantly.

Assembly Bill 691 became law effective January 1, 2017. The Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act allows you to designate who will have access to your accounts. For example, you can name a “legacy contact” on your Facebook page by going to Settings, Manage Account, Add a Legacy Contact. If you die without having named a “legacy contact” the law allows you to designate an agent in your will or trust. You can also appoint an agent in your power of attorney. This person would have access to your digital assets if you are still living but mentally incapacitated. If you fail to plan in naming a legacy contact and in creating an estate plan, then the terms of service for Facebook will determine whether your fiduciary will gain access to your account.

What is a digital asset? It is an electronic record in which a person has a right or interest. Digital assets include domain names, web pages, blogs, online storage accounts, photo sharing accounts, online stores, online auction sites, listservs, tax preparation accounts, YouTube, iTunes, and video gaming accounts. Digital assets also include social media accounts such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat. Intellectual property such as copyrights, patents, and trademarks are also considered digital assets.

The type of devices your designated agent will have access to goes beyond your computer. Their access includes your smartphone, digital camera, Kindle, tablet, and other storage devices such as flash drives. Information stored in the cloud is also included. As technology develops, similar hardware and devices will be included.

The value of digital information may appear small however it may lead a user to gain access to other assets with a significant value such as passwords for online investment accounts or advertising revenue from web pages or blogs. Most would agree that while our collection of online photos is of little monetary value, it has sentimental value beyond measure.

Plan ahead to protect your digital assets by establishing an estate plan. Executing a will or trust allows you to include specific provisions for digital assets. If your will or trust was drafted before 2017, it likely does not include this designation because this law is new. See your estate attorney to create a will or trust for you and your family. Or if you already have a plan, ask your attorney for an amendment that reflects your wishes for your digital assets.

Nominating an agent for your digital assets will allow them to use, access, modify, control, transfer, archive and delete electronic information and accounts. This is essential to protect you. If you have a trust, the agent you nominate is often the same person as your trustee. For example, you will want your agent to gain access to your online bank accounts so they can properly administer your estate. You will want them to be able to relocate the funds to a trust account and distribute any remaining monies to beneficiaries after payment of your outstanding bills and taxes. Finally, you will want your agent to have the authority to close your online bank accounts once the administration is complete. Identity theft among the living is a problem. Identity theft among the deceased is even more common. Avoid the possibility of your online funds being a target for thieves by nominating an agent to act quickly after your passing.

Get organized by creating an inventory of your online accounts and devices. Make a list of the user names and passwords for each account. Update it on a monthly basis to keep it current. Provide the list to your designated agent or let them know where it can be found. You can also subscribe to a password manager program. Finally, contact your attorney to be certain you have nominated a person you trust to manage your digital assets on your incapacity or death. For more information, visit JenMedLaw.com.