Have your done your digital estate planning?
This was the subject of a recent Smart Company article, titled “The business of digital life and death.” According to the article, some 70% of 65-74 year-old Americans are on Facebook, and there are 30 million accounts belonging to folks no longer alive. Not surprisingly, a growing concern among those wishing to properly manage their estate is making proper plans in the event of “digital” death.
The notion of digital death raises questions like what is an “asset” or a “special relationship,” let alone how to balance privacy and security with passing on relevant information. The article cites several factors to consider when dealing with digital assets. For example, there are no international standards on digital assets or for how to address them via estate planning.
Again, social media has not been a burning issue in estate planning as of yet. On the other hand, as younger generations begin to plan for the future, then it will become more relevant for them as they already are prolific users (owners?) of digital assets. How many more with the have over their lifetimes?
It seems every social media platform has a different approach to dealing with the death of one of its users.
Take Facebook, for instance. It protects the privacy of the deceased by securing the account and permitting a family member to request the account be removed or memorialized. In an attempt to balance sharing and privacy, Facebook has introduced a Look Back feature that can create a video of favorite moments that may be viewed but not shared.
For its part, Twitter is open to dealing with an immediate family member or estate representative to deactivate an account. Google developed an “inactive” account manager. This gives an individual access to your Google account if you die. In addition, it allows you set up a deadline in the event you do not use your Google account for a period of time. If that deadline passes without account activity, then Google will notify and allow your designated inactive account manager to access select parts of your account.
In an attempt to prevent illicit use of real accounts, social media platforms are typically moving to policies that validate family members with certified copies of death certificates, so a loved one can account for those assets and close the account.
Despite clear instructions and policies about digital closure, the original article warns that it can be a laborious task. Work with your estate planning attorney to get the most up-to-date information on digital assets and how to coordinate them with your estate planning documents. In the very least, leave an up-to-date list of accounts and passwords for your estate representatives … and let them know where you keep the list.
Remember: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” When making your financial, tax and estate plans, do not go it alone. Be sure to engage competent professional counsel.