Emails, texts and Facebook posts are a huge part of life now. But what happens after you’re gone forever? Is there any way to control your digital legacy? The answer is yes — but only if you plan ahead.
This isn’t just a matter of nostalgia or remembrance. If your digital accounts can’t be accessed promptly after you’re gone, important bills may go unpaid, and valuable assets may be overlooked (say a Paypal account for a side business). Also, your estate could incur the extra cost of computer forensics, delaying what is already a long process. And then there’s online identity theft, which increases with the lack of account activity and monitoring.
While new state and federal laws will eventually make the process of digital asset transfer easier, we’re still in an in-between-phase where privacy laws trump the rights of heirs and fiduciaries.
So What Can Be Done?
There are several steps you can take to help your heirs or executor get access to all your accounts:
Make a list of your digital accounts (see checklist at bottom). The email and other accounts we use most often are easier to remember. But don’t overlook other types of accounts, such as at Amazon.com, which may have your credit card info on file.
Add a digital-assets page to your will. Your will, for example, can be updated to include a “digital assets” page. This is a directive that allows the executor or other people you specify to access some or all of your digital accounts. For instance, you can specify that only the executor can access your email account(s) and only to verify financial information. Always remember that the content of your will be made public upon your death, so avoid giving too many details and certainly NO log-in info.
Still, a digital directive may not always be enough. For instance, Yahoo.com will not provide email content unless your executor also obtains a court order. And Yahoo will delete your email accounts after 8 to 12 months of inactivity. Gmail, on the other hand, allows you to create a “google will” detailing how you want your email, etc. to be handled.
What’s the best way to store account-access info, which changes over time? There are now quite a few storage options, including the online services 1Password and LastPass.
Here’s an option quite a few people at LNWM use: Set up “LastPass? on the electronic devices you use most often; it stores the log-in info for the sites you visit, after you select to save this info. To access all your log-in info, someone would have to know the one master password you created (make it sufficiently complex and really hard even for even you to fully remember). You then store this master password in a safe place that is accessible only to your executor upon your death. If the LastPass site is hacked, the intruders will also need your master password to access my info. So most people feel pretty secure using this service.
To keep things safe and simple, our advice is to provide the access info for your digital accounts to only one other person–typically your executor, if confidentiality is important.
Note that keeping a list of your accounts and passwords in a safe place may not be enough. For one, most of us change passwords for all sorts of reasons. And you’re not likely to update each change. If this is your situation, you may want to provide a family member with the answers to your most-often-asked security questions, just in case they need to reset your log-in info. But this will be tricky to do. Re-setting your own passwords can be challenging enough, let alone having your heirs do this after you’re gone, which is still a gray area in terms of legality.
When possible, have an LLC or a revocable trust own digital assets with monetary value. This is usually possible with domain-name registrations, but not email accounts or individual social networking profiles.
Got Any of These? Then Plan Ahead
***Computers, tablets, laptops, smartphones?
***Financial online accounts, including LNWM account, banks, brokerages, PayPal, etc.?
***Social networking accounts, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter?
***Your own blogs, websites and domain-names?
***Online data and photo storage sites, like Dropbox?
***Retail and other service accounts, such as eBay, Amazon.com and domain-registration sites?