“In the internet age, personal archives are no longer limited to the tangible. In fact, much of one’s personal archives is now digital—emails, texts, photos, videos and social media accounts. There’s also a lot more content generated and stored than ever before.”
After the personal possessions have been distributed from a loved one’s home, what’s left are the final leftovers: old checkbooks, bank statements, employment records and miscellaneous documents that, once finally cleared out, will be gone forever. However, unlike these tangible, physical archives, digital archives will remain, says the Press-Republican in the article “The great digital beyond,” unless steps are taken.
These are relatively new issues that many people are just starting to realize must be dealt with. Some information is saved on personal storage space, such as internal and external hard drives and thumb drives. Others live in the cloud, through social platforms like Facebook, Gmail and YouTube.
What becomes of all that information when someone dies? Does it live on forever? How is it protected, or is it protected?
As more people have had to deal with the management of digital assets, more resources have been created. There are now companies that offer to help with this process. There are websites that allow you to upload all your information and set notifications to family members at future dates. They also handle the requirements from social platforms, so that digital assets are managed properly and legally.
Estate planning attorneys now include digital assets in their documents. However, you will also have to do some homework.
Just as you need to do an audit of your physical and financial assets to make sure your estate plan addresses their proper distribution, whether before or after death, individuals now need to create an inclusive list of their digital assets, including user names, passwords, answers to questions that are used to verify identities and what they want to happen to the digital asset after they have passed.
Some online services do have policies in place for providing access to accounts after the account owner has died. Facebook lets users designate a “Legacy Contact,” who is legally allowed to enter an account to post, respond to friend requests and update the profile and cover photos. The Legacy Contact can be given the authority to download photos, posts and profile information or they can be given the permission to just delete the account. Google has an inactive “Account Manager” that lets users share parts of their account data or notify someone, if they have been inactive for a certain amount of time.
Critical point: Never put your user name, password or security question answers into your will, just as you would not put bank account numbers and financial access information into a will. If your will goes through probate, which is likely to be the case, it becomes a public document. You don’t want to hand the keys to your kingdom to the world at large. The information should be provided to your attorney and your heirs in a separate document.
Talk with your estate planning attorney about your digital assets. If your estate plan was created years ago and never updated, it is likely that there is no mention of digital assets. It’s time for an update.
Reference: Press-Republican (Sep. 23, 2018) “The great digital beyond,”