Estate Planning for Online Accounts & Digital Media

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Roxanne Alexander, CAIA, CFP®, AIF®, ADPA® Financial Advisor

We tend to overlook the amount of information and possible assets we have on the Web — social networking website accounts, frequent flier miles, online credit card and bank accounts, etc. What happens to all of this when we pass away? This crossed my mind as my uncle recently died and I have been noticing that people who probably have no idea he is gone are still posting to his Facebook account.

  1. Make a list of everything you access online, including the login credentials.

In addition to having your estate planning documents in order, it may make sense to have a list of online accounts that should be shut down in the event of death and provide this to a trusted family member or attorney. In order to close email accounts, a death certificate will need to be provided. This can be a long, difficult process.

Accounts such as Amazon, iTunes, and PayPal may have monetary value which could be passed to heirs, for example, a very large iTunes music collection or gift card balances.

Facebook accounts can also be difficult to completely remove, but if a family member has the password to the account he or she can log in and delete the account. The current Facebook policy regarding the death of a family member is to memorialize the account — certain private information is removed from public view and the page becomes accessible only to friends. Deleting the account totally is more difficult.

Twitter has strict privacy policies, and will rarely allow anyone to access the account of someone who is deceased without a death certificate, power of attorney, a court order, or an executor’s testament. Click here for information on contacting Twitter about a deceased user or media concerning a deceased family member.

  1. Determine what you would want done with each account and put it in writing.

Creating a digital will can help avoid these issues. This will appoint someone as an online executor and state formally how you would like your profiles to be handled. The easiest way for the online executor to take action would be to provide him or her with a list of all websites used and your login credentials. State in your will that the online executor should receive a copy of your death certificate. Remember to update this periodically as you make changes or update passwords.

  1. Assign someone you trust to serve as your online executor.

Deleting accounts can be tricky for family members if they don’t have your login credentials. Each website has its own requirements and legal process for dealing with death, which can be quite cumbersome for family members. How do you want to protect your legacy and your privacy?

       What can you do if there is no access?

If no documentation has been left by the deceased individual, trying to get into his or her email may be a good place to start, as this may lead to clues to other accounts the deceased may have had. It may make sense to keep email accounts open for a while, as you will be able to monitor other accounts from which the deceased receives email. You can also look through saved or archived emails to potentially find username and password confirmations or you may be able to request password resets for other accounts from that email address.

Looking through credit card statements can also be helpful in determining whether there are any other online accounts which may be paid for by automatic debits such as iTunes or LinkedIn.

Since planning for online accounts is a fairly new development, speak to your attorney about the best way to handle your current situation, as each state and each website has its own legislation and policy, respectively, on who can legally access your online information.

You can read more in depth on some of the legal aspects by clicking here.

Feel free to contact Roxanne Alexander with any questions by phone 305.448.8882 ext. 236 or email: RAlexander@ek-ff.com 

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