We live in the Internet Age. Almost everyone who uses the internet or a smartphone world has digital assets, whether an email account, Facebook, Twitter, eBay, Shutterfly, a blog, etc. Some people do almost everything from shopping to banking to communicating via the internet.
Wills usually intend to control the disposition of all of your assets. But what happens to your digital assets when you become incapacitated or die?
Have you thought about what you want to happen with your digital assets? Most people assume that when they become incapacitated or pass away, their digital footprint will disappear.
Unfortunately, this is not the case. For example, Facebook accounts can remain active long after your death unless a friend or family member reports your death and requests to have the account closed.
An inactive eBay account can be potentially problematic. Any hacker could infiltrate and use your account. Bots sending spam could also invade.
How would your family react to getting an email from you or a message from your Facebook account a year or more after your death? Who is allowed to retrieve the data on your accounts, stored pictures, iTunes music, downloaded books, etc.?
One solution is to make sure your estate planning documents address your wishes regarding your digital assets.
Usually, each online account has different requirements determining who has authority to request access. These rules are usually set forth in the site’s section entitled “Terms and Conditions of Service.” For example, Facebook’s “Terms & Conditions” states that you own the data on your Facebook profile and no one can retrieve that data unless “prior consent is obtained from or decreed by the deceased or mandated by law.”
Meaning, you have to ensure your estate planning documents give specific authority to your named agents to access and manage your Facebook account. Other digital asset accounts have similar language.
Estate planning attorneys are now addressing these issues because so many of us have digital accounts. Anyone with an online account should address how they would want to give control and authority over their online accounts and digital assets upon incapacity or death.
All of that information and data is floating around cyberspace – pictures, posts, videos, blogs, etc. A person’s whole life story is captured online.
Digital assets deserve just as much attention as the rest of the assets in your estate. Your will, trust or power of attorney should address how your digital assets will be managed when you can longer access them. Take the time to speak with an estate-planning attorney who is well versed in how to handle this segment of your assets.
Rebekah N. Freeman is an associate attorney with Elder Law & Estate Planning Center.