Once upon a time, when it came to organizing our estate planning and personal documents, everything was in hardcopy files. At the time of one’s death, directions to a loved one or executor might simply be to look in a particular file cabinet or lock-box to retrieve necessary documents and instructions. Today, so much of our world is virtual — our banking and investing is done online, our family history and photos are on our computers or social media accounts, our files are backed up somewhere on the cloud.
Who will be given access to your Facebook account, Google documents, email and other online accounts at the time of your death? Who will receive your digital photos, music, movies and other electronic files that are of personal or commercial value? How should the news of your death be shared with your friends, connections or followers on your social media accounts like Twitter, LinkedIn or Instagram?
This new digital reality needs to be considered when preparing an estate plan and creating a will and powers of attorney.
Sentimental and emotional issues notwithstanding, it will make things easier on those you leave behind if you provide an organized, detailed listing of your digital assets. This should include online accounts with user IDs and passwords, as well as instructions for which accounts you’d like preserved and which should be closed.
While you may want to preserve certain online accounts (such as a family history blog, your Facebook page or photo archives), shutting down accounts that are no longer needed will help to protect your family from identity theft after you are gone (such accounts might include Paypal, Amazon and other shopping websites that have your credit card information stored). Your documents should also include information about any electronic hardware (e.g. desktop computers, laptops, smart phones, tablets) and software (e.g. Quicken, Turbo Tax) that may contain important files to be preserved or that require a password to access.
Important points to keep in mind:
- Choose an executor or personal representative who is tech savvy, understands the importance of preserving your digital assets and knows how to do so.
- Make a list of all your digital assets and online accounts, including user names, passwords and associated email addresses required to access them.
- Be sure to update the list and instructions whenever you change login information or add new accounts.
- Keep the list in a safe place and be sure your beneficiaries, trustees or executors know where to find it.
- Do not put user names and passwords in your will, since it becomes public record when you die.