Estate Planning for Digital Assets
In the past year I’ve gotten more and more questions about what happens to someone’s online accounts when they pass away. This is certainly a great question that often goes unconsidered, even for people that have more formal estate planning in place. With the amount of information available in these accounts, both private and public, addressing these digital assets can be just as important as setting up a will or trust. This post will go over some of the more common social media accounts, such as Google, Facebook, and Twitter, but there are many more to consider.
Google has a system in place called the Inactive Account Manager, which allows someone to setup in advance what to do with that person’s messages and data if their account were to become inactive for a specified period of time. Using this tool, a person could choose to have all information deleted or give account access to a named individual. Another feature will send out messages to the person’s contacts informing them of the person’s inactivity.
Facebook accounts offer a different and unique option. The Facebook pages for deceased people can be memorialized, which essentially turns the page into an online obituary. Of course, Facebook also allows family members to remove the deceased person’s page upon suppling the necessary information it requires. Both memorialization and removal require documentation of the person’s death in the form of a death certificate or online obituary.
Twitter has different terms of service than Facebook, saying it will work with the person authorized to act on behalf of the estate or a family member in order to deactivate the account of the deceased person. If the Twitter page is not verified, the process may take longer, but the page should still be able to be removed when the necessary information is supplied. Of the three mentioned here, Twitter seems to require the most information when wanting to remove an account.
While this post discusses the general guidelines in place for working with a deceased person’s digital assets, the rules vary by account and by state so the best advice is to keep a record of the various accounts and passwords for the successor trustee and/or executor to have access to, preferably integrated into your estate plan.
This post is provided for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is intended, but not promised or guaranteed to be current, complete, or up-to-date and should in no way be taken as an indication of future results. It is not intended to create an attorney-client relationship and is offered only for general informational and educational purposes. You should not act or rely on any information contained in this website without first seeking the advice of an attorney.