Living in a Digital World

Do you have an e-mail account?

Do you participate in Facebook or other Social Networking sites?

Do you do any of your banking, bill paying or investing online?

If you answered yes to any of these questions then you might want to think about this next question… what will happen to all of your online assets and accounts when you die?

As we move further into the 21st century more and more of our lives are moving into the digital realm. This includes friendships, networking, business and banking. The beauty of this is that it gives us unprecedented freedom and global access; the downside is that huge portions of our lives are locked away behind password protected accounts, many of which our friends and relatives aren’t even aware of. Online accounts are incredibly convenient, but they can create huge problems if your executor or agent has no way to retrieve your online passwords, assets or contacts after you die.

Some large online service providers are developing policies to deal with the transfer of accounts upon the death of the user, as noted in this article by Alejandro Martínez-Cabrera, “but the process is rarely a simple one.” Some companies require a death certificate before they will agree to shut down an account or turn over the contents, but rarely will an online company transfer actual ownership. It could take months or years of headaches and frustration before your heirs have access to any assets or information locked behind these online protections.

What this means for estate planning is that when you talk to your attorney about your will or your trust it’s not just about physical assets anymore; digital and online accounts and assets must be part of the conversation.