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Estate Planning for Digital Accounts

twitter-292994__340-300x200When you think about estate planning, most people think about their physical possessions, their real estate and their financial assets, but in this day and age, you also need to consider your digital assets.   You may have as much as 20 years of active digital presence.  This can include documents, photos, and on-line accounts such as Facebook, Google,  back-up services, Linked In, Twitter, Snapchat, etc.  Such digital accounts generally have no expiration date.

It is important to consider what will happen when you die to your accounts and the data contained them.  It is important to consider what will happen if you do nothing, and decide if that is what you want to happen.   It is an often overlooked part of estate planning.

Many online accounts allow you plan during life for what will happen to the account upon death.  However, this is all very new and some of the most popular online accounts do not provide a way to plan for what will happen to the account upon the account owner’s death. For any accounts which do not allow you to plan, it is desirable to establish a plan now with a trusted loved one.

Here is the information for some of the most popular online accounts:

Facebook

Facebook provides the option of appointing a Facebook legacy contact.  Your legacy contact will be able to do certain things after your death. For instance, your legacy can write a pinned post at the top of your profile, accept or deny friend requests, and download a copy of your public activity (including photos).  Your legacy contact will not be permitted to read your messages, log into your account, or make changes to prior posts or activity on Facebook.  Facebook also provides an option where you can direct Facebook to delete your account and everything contained in it when Facebook is notified of your death.

Google

Google allows you to choose someone (in fact, as many as 10 people) to be the executor of your account when your account has been inactive for a designated period of time.  You can designate executors via Google’s inactive account manager .

In the inactive account manager, you can choose the amount of time between sign-ins which will trigger your account being designated as “inactive.”  As soon as your account has experienced the designated period of inactivity, the designated executor will receive an email which you compose when you set designate the executor.  In that e-mail you would advise your executor how you want them to proceed.

Google allows you to provide full access to your Google account, including email and chat histories, or you can opt to limit the executor’s access to specific portions of the account.

In the alternative, you can instruct Google to delete your account and all its data.

Twitter, LinkedIn, Snapchat, Tumblr

Twitter, LinkedIn, Snapchat and Tumblr have no options allowing you to chose someone to have access to your accounts.  However, each of these platforms will allow next of kin to delete your account provided they can produce a death certificate and some proof of your relationship to the decedent.

Beyond that, many other sites (including Yahoo, Microsoft and AOL) have relatively standard protocols in place for immediate family members to request the deletion of a deceased person’s account.

Data Backup Services

Online data storage is the most difficult online account to manage after a person’s death.  These accounts are established specifically with security and privacy in mind.  The client of an online data backup service often sets up their own private encryption key and the online backup service actually does not have access to the account.

At this point, the best way to ensure that the data stored on the backup site can be accessed is to provide a copy of the encryption key to another trusted person.  Of course, if someone else has the key, they can access the data at any time, even during your life.

Contact the estate planning attorneys at McLaughlin & Nardi, LLC to set up a consultation to discuss your estate planning questions.  Email us or call (973) 890-0004.