What is going to happen to your online accounts when you pass away?
When creating your estate plan, think about what you are you going to want to happen to your digital legacy —that is, all of your accounts, blogs, social network ID’s, and digitized files that are going to be left online when you pass away. A lot of of these items can’t be left through your will or other estate planning devices since you’re not the actual owner of them. Nevertheless, if you know what you are going to like to have happen, you can leave significant instructions for your executor, that should be able to execute your wishes.
What Are Your Digital Assets?
When thinking about your digital legacy consider:
- social networks, like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, or Instagram
- blogs and licensed URL’s
- your presence in online communities or e-mail management
- music, photos, or other files that you have stored online
- merchant accounts on Amazon, eBay, or Etsy
- access to financial institution accounts or utilities.
A lot of your online accounts are not going to pass through your will or other estate planning device since you actually don’t own them. Social network accounts, URL registrations, e-mail accounts, and most other kinds of online accounts are “yours” only by license. When you pass away, the contract is terminated and the business that controls the account manages what happens to it.
Nevertheless, you can still impact the fate of those accounts fate to some level: You can leave a message to those that are going to be wrapping up your estate detailing your wishes. In this manner, even though you can’t transfer your “ownership” legally of these accounts, you are still able to plan for what needs to happen to them following your passing away. Below are instances of favorable online accounts and instructions that you might want to leave concerning them.
Facebook and other Social Networks
If you are part of an online social network – like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, or Instagram, you may wonder what is going to happen to your account when you pass away. The answer is that time will tell. Each company has their own policies on what to do with the accounts of deceased individuals. Some (like Facebook), are going to put your account into “memorial” standing so that the account is able to still be viewed and memorial messages could be left for the deceased individuals. Others are going to delete or disable the account.
On the other hand, for the most part, if no one gives notice the network about the death, it’s not going to know – at least for some time. This gives you a chance to have someone modify your account following your passing. For instance, you might have your executor post a final status post or tweet following your passing. Or you could ask to have specific things deleted from your account. Or you could ask your executor to completely delete the account.
Similar to social networks, what happens to your e-mail accounts is subject mainly on the policies of the company that manages your account – for instance, Yahoo, Gmail, Outlook or for your work e-mail, your employer. Sometime after your passing – the timing is subject to the company’s policy — your account is going to be deactivated. Nevertheless, you could have your executor to send, delete, print-out, or catalog e-mails prior to the account expiring. For instance, perhaps there is an email from your son, that you think your granddaughter would like to read. Or perhaps there are specific e-mails that would be better off deleted completely.
Digital Blogs and Licensed URL’s
If you have a blog, you might want to request that your executor let your readers know about your passing, take it down completely, or to catalog its contents. If you have licensed URL, think about what you would like to have happen to it also. Your executor might be able to transfer, terminate, or continue paying for it.
If you are a part of any online communities – such as a community listserve, or an online book club – you might want to have them notified about your passing or leave a final message for them.
Digital Photos, Music, and Other Files
If you have music, photos, movies, or other digital files stored online, you have two things to think about – how your executor is going to access the files, and what you wish done with them following them being accessed.
When you do not leave access to your online storage, at some point, the account is going to be deactivated and no one is going to be allowed to access the files. When you want to be sure that the files at some time, get to the ones you want, leave details for accessing these accounts with your executor.
If you are the owner of the contents in the files – for instance, pictures you have taken, or music that you have bought – you can utilize your will or living trust to distribute these items to the people you want. Just detail them well (“all of my pictures of Denver stored in my Instagram account”) and be sure that your executor has the details they need to get into the account and download your files.
Digital Merchant Accounts
If you sell things on websites such as Amazon, eBay, or Etsy, leave guidelines for your loved ones about what they should do with your merchant account. Should the company know about your passing, you are not going to be able to choose what happens to the account itself, but you can leave all of the items you sell (including any profits that continually come in) through your will or living trust. If you want another person to run your store after you pass away, check your agreement with the managing company – your account might not be able to be transferred. Alternatively, the new “owner” might have to open a totally new account.
Financial Accounts and Utilities
Your executor will be very appreciative if you leave them clear instructions about how to gain access to your financial records and utilities online. Utilize your will or trust to distribute the contents of your financial accounts to your family members. But throughout probate, your executor is going require access to those accounts to pay utilities and conclude your estate.
Think about if you are required to leave instructions concerning how to access the online accounts for your
- savings or checking accounts
- retirement accounts
- life insurance policies
- utilities, phone, or satellite tv bills, or
- tax preparation services.
Leaving Instructions Behind for Your Digital Legacy
Leave instructions behind for your executor concerning what to do with, and how to gain access, your online accounts. The best way to do this is to create a document with your instructions and log-in information and store it with your other estate planning paperwork.
If you decide not to leave your log-in information, your estate representative might still be able to gain limited access to some of your accounts. A lot of states now have statutes that give your estate representative the power to petition access to digital assets required to conclude the estate. Nevertheless, doing so requires dealing through probate court and the companies that hold the information, in which is going to undoubtedly add time and inconvenience to the process. And your executor is not going to get access to anything unassociated to concluding your estate. So, there is going to be no access to items of only sentimental worth, like particular meaningful e-mails, online blogs, or online communities, in which might be the very things you would want your loved ones to have. For these reasonings, a clear letter is going to be a significant help to your executor.
The letter does not need to be anything special (it is not going to be a legally binding document),
Betsy Simmons Hannibal, A. (2022, July 3). A plan for your Digital assets. www.nolo.com. Retrieved October 12, 2022, from https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/a-plan-your-digital-legacy.html
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