What Happens to my Digital Life When I Die?

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The procedures for what happens to one’s estate when the person dies are well established. However, what happens to one’s digital lives (emails, Facebook accounts, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterist, blogging, Flickr photos) is not yet clearly established.  Many people rely on the service providers’ terms of use regarding death. However, many states are working towards establishing codified procedures governing digital assets upon death. New York currently has a bill pending-A823-2013, which provides access to a decedent’s electronic mail, social networking and/or blogging accounts to the executor or administrator of the decedent’s estate. You can read the text of the bill here. This bill basically calls for the executor of the decedent’s estate to take over the decedent’s email, social media and blogging accounts.

Although New York has not yet adopted a law regarding digital estate plans and this would not be recognize by a court in New York, it does not hurt to have one in place to notify a close family member or friend as to what to do with your digital life once you pass. To create a digital estate plan, you should first make a list of all digital property that you own: computers, laptops, phones, flash drives, a kindle, etc. You cannot be too over-inclusive. You should provide the location for these and try to include what information can be found on them. Also indicate any cloud storage login information and well as service providers within which you have an account and your log-in information including usernames and passwords as well. This can include shopping accounts (e.g., Amazon), dating websites (e.g., match.com and OkCupid), social networking (e.g., LinkedIn), social media accounts (e.g., Facebook and MeetUp) blogging accounts (e.g., Twitter), photo and video sharing accounts (e.g., Instagram and Flickr) and financial accounts (e.g., bank, telephone, insurance, etc.). Then you should indicate what you would like done with your accounts-close them, keep them, cash out any points or accumulated, print pictures and distribute them to family members, etc.

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With a digital estate plan, you can tell your executor any and all websites you have logins for and instructions for when you pass. For example, you could give your executor your log in information for LinkedIn and instructions to close the account once you pass. Otherwise, upon your death a family member that would first have to figure out what accounts you have open, then go through a bunch of steps to close it properly.  You can find step by step instructions on closing a LinkedIn account upon death here.  Another interesting example is Facebook because you can delete an account or memorialize it when someone passes. People might have specific feelings regarding this and so it is beneficial for the people who care about you to know your feelings.

Once you notify your digital executor of the role you would like him or her to play, track all your websites and login information, and indicate your wishes for the disposition of all accounts, you should you should make sure to store this information in a safe place.

An attorney experienced with digital estate planning can provide you with an organized way to track your wishes regarding all of your online accounts, notify you what the default rules are for most accounts upon death, keep you up to date on any new legislation, and store this valuable information for you as a will would be kept.

When Rincker Law, PLLC does an estate plan for a client, we offer a document to keep all important information including passwords to social media accounts.  

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