As you develop your estate plan, you must consider what will happen to your digital assets, such as your online accounts, websites, blogs, social media profiles and any other digital files. In most cases, you cannot include these items in a will, as you do not actually own them in a traditional sense. The law is developing in this field and legal access to these assets may be limited. Nevertheless, working with a knowledgeable estate planning attorney, you can provide instruction and authority to the personal representative of your estate, who will do what they legally can to carry out your directions.
The following is a brief overview of some of the digital assets you may wish to have your personal representative control and the important considerations associated with each.
Facebook and other social profiles
Every social media company has a policy of what it will do with accounts belonging to deceased users. Facebook, for example, recently started putting accounts of deceased members into a special “memorial” status, allowing others to continue to view the profile and leave messages or photos. One person retains control of the account. Other sites may simply delete or deactivate the account upon request. Of course, someone must inform the company that the individual in question has died.
You may provide your personal representative with your login information and either instruct that person to post a final status update or delete your account (or individual items on your account) entirely. An estate planning lawyer will provide you with more options if needed.
Again, what happens with your email account is primarily based on the policy of the company hosting your account, such as Google, Microsoft, your employer or an internet provider. However, most companies delete inactive accounts after a period of time. You may provide your personal representative with your login information and have that person send, delete or print emails before the account expires. Or, you may instruct that your account gets deleted immediately.
Blogs and websites
If you run a blog or website, you may consider having your personal representative publish a final post so that your readers know what happened. The personal representative could also take the blog down or put its contents into an archive.
If you own the domain name for your blog or another website, consider what you want to have happen to that site. In your estate planning documents, you could name to a new owner.
These days, more people than ever are taking advantage of cloud-based systems to store their photos, movies, music and various other files. You will need to consider how your personal representative will be able to access those files, and what should happen to them. In most cases, hosts delete or disable these accounts after a certain period of inactivity. To that end, it’s important to leave instructions for how to handle them so that nothing important is lost.