With so much of our lives taking place in the cloud, it is important to think about protecting our digital assets post-mortem. A few online services have a policy regarding what happens to your account, or allow you to select what happens. For example, Google allows you to “Plan your digital afterlife with inactive Account Manager” which allows you to have your Google data deleted after a selected period of time of inactivity or selected trusted contacts to retrieve your data. Facebook allows you to designate a “legacy contact” who is able to pin a final post on your timeline after your death. This person cannot log in as you or read private messages, but can respond to new friend requests and update profile and cover photos.
But what about our digital assets, such as our iTunes libraries, e-books, and video games? Are these able to be passed as though they were a vinyl record, leather-bound book, or board game? The answer to that is not so clear. Many companies, such as Apple and Amazon, state in the End User License Agreement when you purchase a digital item that you are simply purchasing the license to use said product, but that you do not actually own that product and do not have the authority to transfer that license to anyone without the express permission of Apple or Amazon. This remains a grey area in the law that is likely to be tested by creative estate planning techniques, such as having the digital assets purchased by a Trust with you and your children as the named beneficiaries, for example.
Many popular social media sites, however, do not have a specific policy like Google or Facebook. Many Social Media providers will only allow the personal representative (formerly known as the executor) to deactivate the deceased person’s account, but will not allow access to private content. The account is owned by the deceased person. As digital assets are a relatively new component to the estate planning puzzle, it remains unclear what these sites will permit if a personal representative is given specific power to access the accounts.
If your social media accounts are not set up to address what happens when you die, your will may leave specific instructions as to your wishes. Instructions may also be left in a trust or power of attorney. I also advise my clients to leave a list with their estate planing documents of their online accounts, usernames and passwords. This eases the difficulty of addressing the digital estate.
Have more questions about protecting your digital assets? Contact Broadbent & Taylor for a free consultation!
THIS POST WAS WRITTEN BY ATTORNEY CATHERINE TAYLOR AND IS FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY. THIS DOES NOT CONSTITUTE LEGAL ADVICE OR CREATE AN ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP OF ANY SORT.