A will is no longer just for distributing your worldly possessions. With so much of life being handled online, it’s likely you have digital assets that need to be addressed in your estate plan. From your Paypal account to your music library, this digital footprint can live on for years, even decades after you pass away.
A digital will may be just what you need to protect your privacy rights and ensure your property is properly transferred. It doesn’t need to be a legal document like your official will. A digital will can simply be a list of all your digital property, where it’s stored, and the user name and email address associated with each account. Here’s what you need to know when planning for your digital estate.
Creating a Digital Will
A digital will can be an informal document that allows family members to close down your online accounts. If you want to transfer rights to things such as a domain name or a website, it’s advisable to account for these in your formal will. Here are a few steps to create your digital plan:
- Inventory Your Digital Footprint
Create a list of all the sites where you have accounts, including social media, photo storage, email accounts, online brokerage accounts, blogs and accounts that automatically withdraw from your bank account.
- Draft Detailed Instructions
Let people know what you’d like to see happen with each account. For example, you may not want your Facebook page memorialized, but you do want your photo albums shared with loved ones.
- Select a Digital Executor
Select a mature person to carry out your wishes after you’re gone. Let the executor know about your digital will in advance. Let them know how they will find the document when the time comes. Be sure to name your executor in your digital will. You should also name an alternate executor in case your executor is unable to serve.
- Store Your Document in a Safe Place
A will is only useful if it can be found. If you store the will on a password-protected device, make sure for that device can be accessed when you die. Consider printing and signing your digital will, and storing it with your other important personal documents.
Digital Assets in Your Formal Will
You’ve spent years creating a digital archive filled with your favorite photos. You also have an extensive music collection you’d like to pass on to friends. The law regarding the transferability of your digital assets are vary widely.
For example, your iTunes purchases are only for a license to use the content, whether it’s books, music, or video. You don’t own the media, even if it’s downloaded. The Apple license is non-transferable so it can’t be left in your will. To avoid this problem, a few sites have policies, such as Apple Home Sharing, which allows people in the same household to access a common library.
All property that you own can be distributed in your formal will or trust. You’ll need to check with each site or service provider to understand if your purchase is an ownership right that is transferable or simply a license to use the product.
Using Legacy Policies
Many popular websites have legacy policies in their Terms of Service Agreement to address what will become of your digital footprint after you die. Policies vary from allowing a named executor to close an account, to authoring your account be deleted after a period of inactivity. It’s a good idea to review a site’s legacy policy before drafting your digital will. The following are a few examples from popular businesses:
- PayPal has a process to allow an estate’s executor to close a user’s account. Remaining funds will be liquidated by check made out to the estate.
- Twitter allows family members to deactivate a deceased member’s account. Twitter does not provide log-in information to the executor.
- Ebay’s user agreement doesn’t allow transfer of accounts to others. If you need to close an account due to death, you should contact their support team.
- Google’s “Inactive Account Manager” allows you to decide how your account is handled if it’s inactive for a specified length of time. For example, if you have not logged into your email in one year, the account will be deleted. You can designate up to 10 people to handle your accounts as digital executors.
- Facebook lets family members convert the deceased’s account to a “memorized” status. Upon receiving proof of death, sensitive personal information is deleted and the status of the account is changed.
Uniform Digital Assets Law
A growing number of states introduced legislation to address access issues to a deceased’s digital property. The personal representative of your estate has a legal duty to protect your assets. But they can be blocked by on-line provider polices about when or if they will grant access to legally appointed fiduciaries.
The Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act is a model law designed to work with a state’s existing laws on probate, guardianship, trusts, and powers of attorney. The law gives your estate’s representative power over your traditional assets, including digital ones. The act allows your representative to manage digital property like computer files, web domains, and virtual currency, but restricts their access to electronic communications such as email, text messages, and social media accounts unless the original user consented in a will, trust, power of attorney, or other record.
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