These days, most of us find ourselves living in a technology-driven world—from our social media accounts, to our online bill pay, and even our food delivery services. But what happens to those accounts when you die?
Well, if no end of life planning is done, the answer could be a nightmare for your family. When most of us sign up for a new account, whether it be a bank account, social media, or storage service, we click through the ‘terms and conditions’ and agree without reading. These ‘terms and conditions’ could prove to be a significant obstacle between your family and their attempt at closing any online presence you may have had.
Our online presence is what the legal world refers to as our digital assets or digital estate. Your digital assets range from any information you create that exists in either digital form or is stored on an electronic device.
Generally, digital assets fall into 2 main categories: (1) personal digital property and (2) digital assets used in a business.
Personal Digital Property
This category includes a range of information:
- Any online accounts, including:
- Email (Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail),
- Social media (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest),
- Shopping (Amazon, eBay, Target, Walmart, BestBuy),
- Cloud storage (iCloud, Dropbox, Microsoft OneDrive),
- Video streaming (Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, Netflix, Redbox, Vudu),
- Music accounts (Pandora, Tidal, iTunes, Spotify),
- Banking and money management accounts (Venmo, PayPal, Mint)
- Software and data contained on computers, laptops, external hard drives, smartphones, iPads, digital cameras, or other digital devices
- Blogs you author
- Domain names
Digital Business Assets
- Any online accounts registered in the business name
- Your business’ mail or subscription list containing company client information
- Digital property owned by the business
- The assets of any online storefront you may manage, such as an eBay store, Etsy account, or Shopify—including your customer history
As one can imagine, some digital assets may have significant monetary value. But in addition, many accounts contain sensitive information, such as credit card numbers, billing information, and even the information that could be used to fraudulently open new accounts in your name after your death. For this reason alone, you should ensure that your estate planning documents adequately provide for your digital estate.
Fortunately, Florida has adopted legislation that allows a trustee or executor to access digital assets on behalf of the deceased. However, there are important requirements to ensure your family or friends—whomever you decide to trust with the disposition of your digital estate—are able to gain access to the digital assets.
Utilize the Available Online Management Options
With the growing popularity of a ‘paperless world,’ many sites that may be part of your digital estate have begun to implement management options for account owners.
For instance, Facebook has what it calls a “Legacy Contact.” This is someone you designate who can memorialize your Facebook page after your death and even provide burial information. Google offers a similar management option by which you can choose to have your account closed after a period of inactivity.
However, not every site has these planning options available.
Evidence Your Wishes in Your Estate Planning Documents
Under Florida law, a user’s direction in his or her will or trust will prevail over a site’s “terms and conditions.” You can therefore name your wishes in your will or trust with respect to your digital assets. The access can be as broad or limited as you make it.
However, in order to incorporate your wishes into your estate planning documents, you must first take stock and compile an inventory of your digital assets. Any list that contains all your online account information (logins and passwords) should not, however, be incorporated into your will, because wills becomes public record once probated.
Rather, safe practice would be to name the person(s) in your estate documents you request to carry out your digital estate wishes—specifying how broad or limited their access to your digital assets will be. When naming the person who will administer your digital assets, you should inform them of any list you have produced and where they may locate it when need be.
With the expanding digital world, it is critical to reevaluate your current estate plan to incorporate your wishes regarding any digital estate you have accumulated, ensuring your family can adequately care for your digital footprint.
The Marks Gray Estate Planning Team has put together a free downloadable Digital Assets Workbook to make this process easier. Don’t hesitate to reach out to us with any questions or concerns!