The State of Virginia recently proposed a law that would provide families with access to the online accounts of a deceased relative. The law is in response to what happened when a 15 year old boy committed suicide two years ago and Facebook denied the family’s request to access his account, citing its privacy and terms and conditions policies.
Virginia’s proposed law would turn digital assets into probate assets, subjecting them to the control of a decedent’s executor. A Virginia Congressman is also drafting federal legislation to achieve probate status for digital assets.
Five states currently have digital asset laws: Connecticut, Idaho, Indiana, Oklahoma and Rhode Island. There is no uniformity among the states for how digital assets are treated at death or disability. And the many thousands of online providers each have different policies too, making what happens to your or your children’s digital assets on death difficult to predict. Until a digital asset law is passed in your state of residence or at the federal level in Congress, here are some steps you can take to protect your digital assets after you are gone:
Decide what you want to do with each asset – Will you want each account to be closed, Will you want your family to retrieve your photos and documents and save them? Do you want your online libraries to be shared with your family members? For example, Facebook allows users to “memorialize” accounts of those who have passed. Choose a person or entity that will receive each asset, and be sure to inform them, and tell them what you want to do with it. Choosing people who are computer-literate is a plus.
Create a digital asset inventory – list all your online assets by category, including hardware, software, email accounts, social media accounts, online merchant or banking accounts and online storage for photos and documents and yes, gaming accounts too. Include user name and password information for each account as well as the site’s URL. Better yet, use a reputable online password aggregator like 1Password to hold all your passwords and keep your list updated automatically.
Consider using an online asset aggregator like Legacy Locker – Some companies are beginning to offer post-death digital continuity products. It’s worth a look to see if it makes sense to aggregate control over your digital assets with one of these companies.
Find out if you own licenses or property – For some assets, like music, you only own a license. That means when you stop paying the bill, you lose your ability to use the medium, hear the music, read the book. If you own the digital property outright, your loved ones should be able to continue enjoying your library even after you die.
Give access and control – provide those who will receive your digital assets upon your death with detailed instructions on how to access each account.
If you’d like to learn more about digital asset protection and legacy management of your online accounts, call our office today at 888-597-9685 to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk. We normally charge $750 for a Family Wealth Planning Session, but because this planning is so important, I’ve made space for the next two people who mention this article to have a complete planning session at no charge. Call today and mention this article.