Imagine if you were gone tomorrow and no one could get in to your banking, investment or social media accounts?
Access to these accounts by anyone other than the owner is governed by federal and state laws and terms of service agreements with account managers.
If no one can access your accounts or files to modify or delete them, they could continue to exist. They may remain as you left them until the company managing them terminates the account, at which point all data will be lost.
In the estate planning field, online accounts are known as digital assets. Some examples of digital assets include:
What should you do now to ensure your accounts are handled properly after your death?
Maybe you don’t want all of your digital accounts accessed. If the accounts and files are private in life, you may want them to be private in death. So to start, decide which accounts you will allow access to in order to wrap up your affairs and which you wish to remain untouched.
Prepare your list of accounts and indicate whether or not you will allow access. For those you do wish to have access, include the url of the account and your current password. Put it in a format that can be easily updated, such as a spreadsheet or chart. You’ll want to be thorough and consider all accounts, even those you may not use often.
If you decide to store the list on your computer, be sure to have a tangible copy elsewhere also. Access to a computer typically requires a password log in, which would be on your list!
You may also consider an online storage service that requires just one password to access the locked list. While this may seem the easiest option, it may run the risk of being hacked.
An alternative is to keep the list in a safety deposit box or with your estate planning attorney; however, it may be challenging to keep the list updated from afar. Another option may be to save it to a flash drive and store that in a fireproof lock box in your home.
Forgotten passwords are a fact of life. When you reset a password, make it a point to immediately access your master list and update it. If that’s not possible, try and schedule regular update checks in your calendar.
The person who executes your digital assets does not have to be the same person you name as fiduciary in your estate plan. If you wish to ask someone more familiar with your online accounts or personal life, you could choose to name a trusted friend or family member for that role. In any case, you must specifically grant this person access permission as part of your will, trust, power of attorney, or other legal record.
If you do decide to ask someone to specifically handle the disposition of your digital assets, explain how he or she will access the password list at the appropriate time. You may want to leave a letter, or let your estate planning attorney know how to locate the list.
If you’d like to have separate people handle different parts of your digital estate, that’s possible. Perhaps you’d like to name one person for financial accounts and another representative for personal accounts, like social media. Just be sure to ask them both and specify the digital assets you’d like each person to be responsible for. Remember to also name the people and specify their access in your will, trust, power of attorney, or other record.
Be sure to leave detailed instructions about how you would like your accounts handled. Know that many digital accounts, like those for music and e-books, may or may not continue after your death. Check the licensing and terms of agreement.
As for social media, it is important for you to decide how you would like those accounts to be handled. Some will allow the account to remain indefinitely as a memorial. Do you like this idea? Or would you prefer your account closed? These are personal decisions best made by you now, so no one is faced with guessing your wishes.
Virginia recently changed the 2015 law regarding digital access. Beginning in July this year, the new law designates that fiduciaries you name will be able to manage digital property such as computer files, web domains, and virtual currency. However, the fiduciaries will be restricted from accessing electronic communications such as email, text messages, and social media accounts unless the original user consented to such access in a will, trust, power of attorney, or other record.
If you need to update your estate plan to include instructions for your digital assets, contact the experienced attorneys at Legacy Law Group of Northern Virginia. We are experienced in all matters of estate planning, probate, trusts and estate administration, as well as in-house litigation.