Have you given any thought as to what would happen to your internet presence after you pass away? With a vast majority of adults now using online services such as email and social networking sites on a regular basis, digital estate planning is becoming increasingly important. Without a plan in place, your family may not be aware of the extent of your digital assets and may not be able to access your online accounts after you’re gone.
What is a Digital Asset?
Usually when we discuss assets, we think of things that exist in solid form and have tangible value. However, in this digital age, that definition isn’t broad enough. Our digital assets can include things like digital music and books we’ve purchased, as well as artwork we might have created online. Also, any account you create on a content-sharing site like Facebook or Picasa can be considered an asset, itself.
Unfortunately, the law in this area has yet to catch up with the modern digital age. Currently, only five states have laws regulating access to a deceased person’s online accounts. Though Massachusetts is working on legislation, it has yet to enact a law.
Because of privacy concerns, online companies like Facebook and Twitter refuse to grant surviving family members access to their members’ accounts. However, some companies are trying to address this growing issue. For example, Google created the “Inactive Account Manager,” which allows users to choose what will happen to their Gmail messages or other data if their accounts become inactive.
With the state of the law uncertain, it is important to revise your estate plan to ensure that your digital assets are disposed of according to your wishes. The government now recommends that people create a social media will.
Here are some steps you can take to get your digital affairs in order.
- Inventory your digital assets: determine what digital content exists and where it is located
- Decide what should happen to each digital asset or account after you’re gone
- Designate a digital personal representative to dispose of your online assets and accounts according to your wishes
- Create a separate document containing information on how to access online accounts, including usernames and passwords (since a will is a public document, it is best not to write this information in your will)
There are also a number of websites that have sprung up recently that can help you keep track of your online data and release it to those you designate after you pass away. Some include Legacylocker.com, Assetlock.net, and Deathswitch.com.
If you have not yet made provisions for what will happen to your online presence after you’re gone, contact Attorney Kristina Vickstrom at 508-757-3800. We will review your digital assets and help you incorporate them into a comprehensive estate plan.