It wasn’t that long ago that the on-line world was something used primarily by the younger generation. Now it touches nearly every aspect of our lives and it continues to grow apace. Facebook surpassed one billion active users last year – it now reaches 1 out of 7 people on the planet. Google has 400 million registered users and more than 100 million active users every month. With more than 75% of American households owning a computer, it is common for people to have multiple on-line accounts for email, banking, investments, shopping, hobbies, digital photos, social media, etc. With all these on-line accounts, it is common for people to have multiple passwords.
What happens to these on-line accounts when the owner dies? Unfortunately, there is a lack of uniform laws in the United States to treat on-line accounts like other personal property that can be distributed as part of an estate after death. As the Wall Street Journal recently reported, surviving families can be stuck between estate laws – which allow access to digital data, and privacy laws – which prohibit access. Some people address these potential issues by using commercial services like SecureSafe.com or LegacyLocker.com that allow for the storage of all on-line account information. If your not inclined to use such a service and to help prevent your on-line accounts from being lost forever in the cyber world, a few things may be advisable for your situation:
1. Address your digital accounts in your estate plan.
2. Be specific regarding your wishes. If you wish to grant access to your accounts or desire that they be closed, be sure to make that clear.
3. Create a reference guide. At a minimum, you should have a list of all your accounts along with your user names and passwords.
I know many of you are already thinking that the last thing you need is something else to deal with. However, remember with so much of our lives tied to the on-line world that unless you make your account access information available to your loved ones, your personal information may be lost forever. For example, this could include on-line bank accounts, journals or digital photos. To make sure your on-line accounts are protected after your death, be sure to consult with an experienced elder law attorney.