Posted: February 29, 2016

What happens to my online accounts when I die?


           Increasingly more and more personal items are being stored digitally (either hard drives or the cloud), and more accounts are becoming paperless.  Take a moment and just write down on a sheet of paper, napkin, or newspaper margin how many accounts you have on-line (facebook, linkedin, etc.), how may email addresses you have, and how many bills or subscriptions are handled via email or online.  Now, if something unexpected happened to you would your spouse have access to them? Does somebody have your password to get those photographs that you decided to store on your computer hard drive or on the cloud?  Often the answer is no, and that is not uncommon since dealing with digital accounts and death is a relatively new phenomenon. 

            The Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure Article 3191 defines digital accounts as follows: “….any social networking Internet website, web log Internet website, microblog service Internet website, short message service Internet website, electronic mail service Internet website, financial account Internet website, or any similar electronic services or records, together with any words, characters, codes, or contractual rights necessary to access such digital assets and any text, images, multimedia information, or other personal property stored by or through such digital account.”

            So how can we make sure our loved ones have access or aware of these accounts to make sure bills are paid? Simply by using some common sense estate planning.  In your Will you can designate an executor whose duty it will be to administer your estate in a prudent manner.  That individual is usually someone you trust and are close with (a spouse for example).  Prior to the advent of the digital age, your executor or loved ones could simply dig through the mail and wait for bills to come through to determine existing liabilities.  But now, those same bills are likely password protected.

           There is an easy solution to this problem that just takes a little planning. Simply, create a separate document to be kept with your Last Will and Testament with a list of the accounts and passwords that will help the person you place in charge of your estate maintain your accounts.   I suggest a separate document and not the Last Will, because the Last Will is filed and recorded you may not want to divulge passwords even after your death.

            The same technique should be used for social media sites, and for accessing computer, hard drives, or cloud accounts so that a loved one can retrieve photographs or documents of sentimental value.  Now, later on I will discuss more in detail the contractual limitations of operating on these sites (i.e. itunes, facebook, and yahoo.com), but for now the best thing for you to do as always is to plan.

            Contact our office and we can take some of the leg work out of your hands by providing you with a worksheet that will help you create your own digital account inventory.  Please do not hesitate to contact my office if you have any additional questions or concerns.

 

 


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