Does your estate plan include a digital Will?
Last night while I was having dinner with a friend who also works in the legal world, talk turned to the digital age, and one of our dinner partners remarked about how interesting it was that our friend had recently moved and had acquired modern technology like digital cable TV. The punch line was that when asked if he was online, he replied he had something better, a secretary who was online.
Not many people I meet in my practice have personal secretaries any more. Almost all of them are “online.” Whether you use the internet for email, online banking, bill paying, photo or data storage, medical information, or social networking, it is likely that you have a myriad of usernames and passwords that ought to be regularly changed.
What happens to those online accounts when you die?
Andrea Coombes recently wrote an interesting article Don’t Take Your Passwords to the Grave that describes some of the common risks associated with estate plans that do not adequately address internet accounts.
A somewhat more well known problem was documented in 2005 in A Corporal’s Death on Law.com which described the problems the parents of a deceased soldier had accessing their son’s email account to retrieve his son’s contacts and preserve a record of his correspondence.
To add to the mix, social networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, etc, sometimes have their own policies regarding what happens to a user account when the owner passes away.
You can protect against the loss of the electronic paper trail as a result of your death by leaving behind a list of accounts, usernames and passwords. You can download my suggested form for this purpose at www.bregmanandburt.com. But because of the confusing privacy rules, this may not be enough. Your trust, Will, and powers of attorney should all include provisions addressing who owns or can access your online accounts after your death. You also have the option of creating an “online will” to deal with your online assets such as accounts and passwords.
If you use the internet and your estate plan does not contain these important provisions, seek the help of a competent estate planner who understands the digital world. I welcome your call to review your estate plan or discuss these issues with you.