New York residents may be amused at an application that is currently in beta-testing called LivesOn. The application will reportedly continue to tweet on a user’s behalf after their death. While the concept of a digital afterlife may seem far-fetched, the reality is that one’s online accounts may present challenges to surviving heirs. These issues may be better handled if they are addressed in the context of one’s estate planning.
Digital entities managing social media, email or other online assets may walk a fine line between the privacy needs of users and the need for family members to access those products and properties after an individual dies. In a prevalent case involving the death of a 20-year-old man killed in Iraq, it took a probate court’s decision to order the email host to release the young man’s email materials to the father. A lack of planning with regard to digital assets may result in uncertainty about one’s wishes. This could result in the surfacing of sensitive information that was not meant for release. At the same time, prized materials such as photos that would be meaningful to survivors might become inaccessible. Even identity theft after death could result due to failure to provide instructions for handling online accounts and information.
Some states are establishing protocol for managing the online assets of a decedent. The Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act was passed by the Uniform Law Commission in Seattle this year. The Act addresses the need for a fiduciary to access and manage digital assets similarly to tangible ones while honoring privacy concerns over sensitive information.
An individual doesn’t need to be overly active with digital assets to benefit from a digital estate plan. Whether the needs are as simple as addressing access to one’s email and social media accounts or whether there are blogs, websites and photo galleries to consider, a plan allows for one’s express wishes to be legally established. An estate planning attorney may be able to help individuals address some of these issues.
Source: Flip The Media, “I’ll Tweet When I’m Dead: Estate Planning in the Digital Age“, Connie Rock, July 28, 2014