Digital Afterlife: An Estate Plan For Your Facebook Account

My father was an avid gardener, and an even more avid reader. He loved sharing everything he learned with his fellow gardeners on internet message boards dedicated to the topic. When he passed away, other members of that forum began to wonder why he wasn’t posting and if something had happened to him. Thankfully, my sister was able to access his account and report to this group of friends (almost all of whom he had never met in person) what had happened. It provided closure for them, and a wealth of heartfelt well-wishes for my father’s grieving family.

As the internet has become more of an integral part of our lives, our information — pictures, videos, financial, emails, social media accounts, and other personal information — is constantly being stored online. All of this information is known as your “digital assets.” While the internet has made our lives easier by allowing us to access our information with the simple push of a button, it may be difficult for our loved ones to do the same once we are gone.

Digital Estate Planning

Digital assets encompass any of your information that you store or use online — this includes social media accounts such as Facebook. While you may not consider these digital assets as having much monetary value, they store critical information, and may have sentimental value. Consequently, when you plan for your estate you should include your digital assets because they are an asset owned by you. Indeed, when it comes to your digital assets you will have to make special advanced arrangements so your executor — the person in charge of your estate when you pass away — can access them upon your passing. Many online providers, such as Facebook, Google, and Yahoo!, have specific procedures for handling your account upon your passing.  In order to ensure that your wishes are carried out, you must follow their rules. Strictly speaking, providing usernames and passwords to another person, even your executor or successor trustee, may be a violation of the terms of service for many online accounts, and could cause trouble for your executor or successor trustee. You should also consider access to your computer and back-up hard drives, tablets, and smartphones. Being proactive is key when it comes to your digital assets so that they may be accessed when needed. And, as with any estate plan, regularly revisiting your plan for your digital assets is key.

Coordinating Your Digital Assets With Your Estate Plans

Depending on where you live your digital estate plan may need to be formalized into a legal document. You can then name an executor specifically for your digital assets or, alternatively, name someone with whom your traditional executor can work with in order to settle your digital estate. Make sure to instruct your executor as to the location of your digital asset inventory for easy access. Keep in mind that because your will becomes a public document upon your death due to probate, you should never put any of your username or password information in your will. Instead, have your will refer to an outside document that contains all the needed information regarding your digital assets.

If you have questions about handling your digital assets and how they fit in with your existing estate plan, give us a call.  As with any estate plan, make sure to keep us and any financial advisors you have up to date on the status of your digital assets so that we can ensure your overall plan properly handles them and adapts to any changes in the law or circumstances.

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