If you are like most people in the U.S., you probably rely on electronic tools and social media to communicate and store documents and records. But, what will happen to your digital life when you die? If you use a computer, tablet, or smartphone, store photos or documents in the cloud, have an email account, use social networking sites, or maintain a website, your estate plan should include provisions giving someone else authority to take control of your digital assets after your death. Without that authorization, it can be difficult or even impossible for anyone to gain access to your information.
Some social networking tools and providers allow users to designate a specific person to manage accounts after death. For example, Facebook allows users to identify a “legacy contact,” and Google lets users name an “inactive account manager.” Just as financial assets with beneficiaries pass independently of your Will, so too will digital assets for which you have already named an authorized legacy contact.
If the account holder or service provider does not have a mechanism for designating an authorized representative (or if they do but you didn’t designate anyone), courts will look next to your Will or Trust, to see if those legal documents give your personal representative or another designated person the right to handle your digital assets.
In the absence of written instructions in your estate planning documents, the next tier for determining what happens to your electronic files and devices rests with the service agreements you have with various providers. Some agreements do a good job of identifying how the company will respond to notices that an account holder has passed away and subsequent requests for information; others don’t address it as well or at all.
Your best line of defense to ensure your loved ones can access the electronic information you want them to have when you die, is to update your estate planning documents to specifically include your digital assets. Estate planning helps you manage and secure your assets while you are alive. Careful planning can save money on court costs and reduce the anxiety surrounding your estate so that you can enjoy your life and focus on your family. Not sure where to start? Contact us today to learn more!