Planning for control of your personal information after you die used to be as simple as telling someone about the desk drawer or the fireproof box or the safe deposit box at the local bank. But in the era of smartphones and cloud computing services, that same stuff may be stored in digital formats on servers scattered across the globe.
By Stephen K Lehnardt
While it may sound a bit tongue-in-check, what happens to your digital life after you have passed? Does it just automatically delete, reset, or otherwise go away? Most people today have multiple online accounts. They have email accounts for work and personal use, accounts on social media sites and apps like Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Vine, and some people also have blogs, YouTube channels or even their own websites. If you check the privacy policies on each site where you have accounts, you will notice that most sites will not give out any information about your accounts without your prior permission and some will not give out information without a court order. While you may not be immortal, your digital life may be, so you must plan ahead of time.
A recent New York Times article, “How to Digitally Avoid Taking It to the Grave,” points out, that if you don’t plan ahead and figure out how someone else can access your accounts after you pass away, then you risk the loss of those accounts. In other cases, accounts you would want to carry on might disappear. It depends on the policies of the sites where you have accounts. Some states have passed laws granting executors access to digital accounts after the owners pass away, and there is an effort underway to pass a uniform law in every state.
However, until the law catches up with today's current digital environment, you need to have a plan. At a minimum, you should make sure to list all of your digital accounts. Make sure someone knows where to find the usernames and passwords for those accounts. You also need to store that information somewhere it can be found by someone you trust. This could be done by including that information in your will or trust, but that could make updating the digital information cumbersome. You could also give that information to a trusted individual before you pass away. You do not need to tell them now what your passwords are. You just need to tell them where to find the information.
For more information in Liberty, MO and the Kansas City Area about effective planning and to access free information and tools to organize your estate, visit our elder law and estate planning website.
Reference: New York Times (July 2, 2014) “How to Digitally Avoid Taking It to the Grave”