While so many of us leading active lives online these days, it’s not clear what happens to our accounts when we pass on. Do they matter?
From photographs to calendars, music and social media profiles, personal online accounts hold more value than you might imagine. A 2011 study by McAfee found the average American values their online assets at about $55,000, including career information, movies and personal records. Trouble is, few of us actually consider these items to be financial “assets,” but experts say estate planning in a digital age means protecting much more.
“It’s a big digital world out there, and increasingly cherished memories and more are in online accounts. Sixty-three percent of people don’t know they have to protect those digital assets in their wills,” says Charley Moore, founder of Rocket Lawyer.com, a legal document service website.
Many websites have their own rules and regulations as to what happens to your personal account upon death. Twitter, for example, will retire a deceased person’s account and provide an archive of his or her tweet, but only if that account is not set to private.
Flicker staff will work with the deceased’s family to gain access to the account or to retire it, but in order to do so you’ll need to provide a copy of the death certificate.
And Facebook will memorialize an account, which means the profile no longer shows up as a friend suggestion, nor can anyone log in, but the page will remain for notes of remembrance. Or, if preferred, a legal representative can request the account be permanently deleted.
In any case, it’s your legal will that will play a critical role in determining your preferences and protecting your digital assets, as well as help prevent misunderstandings.
“Forty-four percent of people say they want to help prevent family disputes. They don’t want to leave behind a legacy where their loved ones are potentially fighting in court over their assets when they’re no longer able to be the arbiter of those disputes.
For starters, name a digital executor in your estate plan. This person will be able to manage the digital assets you specify, as long as you include your explicit permission for this executor to control them.
Make a list of every online account you have and state your wishes for each. Also spell out how you want the data, such as pictures, movies, etc., managed, even if the site currently has its own protocols.
“Your digital assets could live on forever, or, even worse, be shut down unexpectedly, depriving your loved ones of cherished memories after you’re gone because you haven’t made your wishes known in advance.”
Got any questions about Estate Planning we can answer during an upcoming twitter chat? Contact me there @Farnoosh and use the hashtag #FinFit.