Estate Planning in the Digital Age

At this point, most people have had the odd experience of realizing one of your Facebook friends is deceased, and one of his or her loved ones are posting on that account. More concerning is realizing who may have access to your online accounts with private information, such as those associated with your bank or hospital. This is why planning for digital estates is a topic of increasing importance.

Residents of California (along with a few other states, including New York, Florida, and Illinois) have adopted a general set of rules for this cutting-edge issue. The Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act provides authority for the creator of an estate plan to authorize his or her agents to have legal authority to access, manage, and close online accounts. For this to work, your estate plan must specifically reference digital asset powers. Fortunately, we work to ensure estate plans from our firm include this language, focusing the role of handling these assets to be controlled by the Trustee.

Separately, there are a couple things you can do on your own to ensure your online accounts pass to your loved ones correctly. First, the only guaranteed way to ensure someone can access your account after you are done is to provide the user name and password. Either personally organizing your online accounts and passwords or making use of a password management program or service can help make transferring the accounts easier. It is always important to practice safe practices when creating a list of sensitive information, such as password protecting the document or only keeping a written copy. Second, be sure to make sure of designated recipients or beneficiaries of your online accounts, as some services allow you to nominate a successor email in the event of periods of unusual inactivity. Facebook includes the ability to nominate a legacy contact for a memorialized account, and other services offer something similar. Third, and this can often be the most important, be sure there is information in your estate plan that these digital assets exist. If you don’t tell your children about an account, and they have no reason to know it exists, they will not try to locate and claim the account.