Is Your Digital Legacy Up for Grabs?

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Ten years ago, I’d never have thought about writing about digital legacy planning. But when I think about my digital assets (photos, documents, music, blogs, business records, etc.) and my digital accounts (emails, bank accounts, subscriptions, etc.), I know I’ll want to provide for someone to handle them (1) in case I lack capacity to manage them, or (2) after I die.

Think about it: the larger my “digital footprint,” the larger my “digital legacy.” While I am only on Facebook and LinkedIn, I imagine many readers are also on Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, as well as dating, job search, and affinity websites. What happens to these accounts after one dies?

Do I want to preserve or eliminate my digital presence? How do I “get off of” Facebook, Linkedin, Instagram, Twitter, etc.? For example, Facebook allows users in the US to designate a “legacy contact” who can take control of your account after their death. Few other social media do. Or do I want to remain there in perpetuity (as a “zombie”)? (One shocking statistic suggests that in 100 years, there will be billion dead people on Facebook).

What about passwords, photos, emails, texts and business information that live on after I die? These, too, are part of this process. A durable power of attorney and/or a will or estate plan can designate a trustee or executor to access, modify, delete, and/or archive, your digital data. But she or he can’t do this unless you have provided them the authority to do so and a list of your digital accounts and assets and how to access them.

Most states have passed a version of the “Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act,” which allows a digital asset custodian to disclose digital asset information when requested by a fiduciary who needs access to the information to fulfill fiduciary duties.

But here’s the kicker: Who actually has the skill to manage our digital assets and accounts? Your spouse who is executor of your estate? Your brother who has power of attorney to make decisions for you if you lose capacity? I wonder. Digital legacy management may call for a new occupational specialty with a skill set not many of us possess.