What happens to your digital assets after you die?


Most people understand the need to protect, and assign, their assets after their death. They know who will care for their children or pets, who will receive the family heirloom brooch, and who will inherit their financial assets. In this day and age, however, there is a new category of assets to consider: digital assets. Internet users should be considering what will happen to their digital assets, including social media accounts, email accounts, online document storage, and other resources, after they die.

Estate Planning Palo Alto CA - San Francisco estate attorney
 image via Passing Down Digital Assets

A list of digital assets should be included in your estate plan. Consider how you will provide your survivors with a list of account locations, usernames, and passwords. Begin by making a list of all the accounts you have opened. Consider listing emails, social networking sites, photo sharing and editing platforms, online document storage or hard drive backup services, online banking, digital stock portfolio information, and more. Talk to your estate planner about what services they provide or suggest, and remember to update the list often, at least once every 30 days, or whenever you update passwords or open new accounts.

After making a list of your digital assets, decide what you want done with those assets. Should the social media page be updated and allowed to continue "in memoriam?" Should only your partner or children have access to your online journal and financial information? Make a list of how you wish each account to be dispensed, which may include allowing them to continue, transferring ownership, or canceling services. Understand that some services, like Facebook, will provide loved ones with a reproducible digital copy upon request, and that restrictions can be placed on each account, to meet your post-mortem request, but these things can only be done if you have left thorough instructions.

Unfortunately, there is no perfect solution for how to transfer password information to your loved ones. Any method will put the security of your accounts at risk, so consider the options and select one that you can live with. A single password and username can be left, for a service like google docs, where a master list is complied, a list can be left with the estate planner, a physical list can be locked in a safe or safety deposit box, or password services, like Legacy Locker, or Dead Man Switch can be used to transmit password information. Ultimately, how passwords are communicated is a matter of personal preference, and comfort.

All the best,
Janet Brewer

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Janet Brewer, Law Offices of Janet L. Brewer | Attorney Advertising

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