We live in a digital age. Technology has revolutionized the world and made our lives a whole lot easier. There are new questions that come to mind when it comes to using internet applications and social media platforms. As new legislature is being enacted, internet companies have refined their policies and rules. There are a number of alternatives to our digital legacy. Although much of this is typically handled by individuals without seeking help for formal estate planning, there are some people which decide to include related terms into the planning documents of their estate. This is why it has become crucial for people to explore their Digital Options for Estate Planning. The legal profession accommodates all such issues.
Social media platforms and other related sites are increasingly paying attention to how a user’s account is treated upon their death. More detailed procedures and policies are being established by service providers as new legislature has been enacted to address such an issue. As the role social media plays in our lives has become extremely crucial, companies such as Google and Facebook have started responding to these important, yet difficult and sensitive issues with regards to how should a user’s legacy come out to be. The applicable law tends to be very sparse in this rapidly developing area. Thus, many companies have made up their own rules. Even though this might not be a significant part of the formal estate planning procedure, clients have started to ask their estate planning attorneys about their digital legacy. However, it is rare for digital assets to be included in their estate planning documents. But, clients can choose to have their digital assets included in their digital legacy. Besides, there are many clients that have begun doing so.
Internet users that identify themselves as planners will likely become more familiar with post-death procedures that are applicable to social media and their overall online identity. Therefore, they have the opportunity to submit relevant forms for ensuring that all their digital post-death wishes come true. Most internet services are dealing with such sensitive issues and are working to find the right balance between being responsive to user wishes and respecting their privacy as well as attending to requests from grieving loved ones.
One of the first internet companies to deal with afterlife online matters was Google. It enabled users to select digital heirs for many of their services including cloud storage and Gmail. This led to the digital heirs being considered as inactive account managers.
Facebook made the headlines when it made the decision of changing its long-time policy of freezing accounts of deceased users to leaving their posts and pictures in order to memorialize the users while maintaining their privacy settings. Facebook now allows users to designate a legacy contact. It is a person which the user can select to manage certain areas of their account as per their wishes upon death. On the other hand, users have the option to choose to have their account deleted altogether when they die. This means that it is possible for the legacy contacts to turn the deceased user’s profile into a digital gravestone. Hence, the display posts would be shown with a profile picture that memorializes the deceased person.
Moreover, the legacy user can also respond to friend requests. There are many more options depending on the settings selected by the user prior to death. Users can designate a legacy contact who would considered as a digital heir by Facebook and will handle their will and honor its provisions. It might sound somewhat mind-boggling to think of, but has become an important part of estate planning. Thus, you now have the opportunity to designate someone to be in charge of your social media platform as well as internet activity upon death. The reason why this is a step in the right direction is because of the fact that you now have the ability to choose an heir to handle all your digital assets when you die. It is somewhat similar to the conventional planning of estate planning documents.
The state law has yet to pick up the matter. However, it is obvious that the area of privacy, account management, and succession of digital assets will be an important topic in years to come. It is important to note that Delaware had passed a legislation titled “Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets & Digital Accounts Act” which shows that it is only a matter of time until it becomes federal law. After the enacted of the said legislation by Delaware, there are many states that have followed suit and adopted similar law. It is believed that the legislation is a response to policies made by huge internet corporations that are playing it safe by restricting access to the accounts of users upon their death.
As per the Delaware law, online accounts would only be accessible by an Executor unless the decedent has instructed otherwise. Thus, the Executor would not need to spend a ton of money, effort, and time on obtaining the court order. Although the Delaware law might seem appropriate and perfectly logical, it remains controversial. There are many internet corporations and people who insist that the law provides power that it is too broad to Executors as it would violate the privacy rights of the decedent as well as the federal privacy laws in place.
It might have taken some time, but it is a good move for the estate planning laws to cover technology. Hence, the estate plan would be incomplete if no arrangements have been made regarding digital life such as transactions, files, accounts, and etc. Some of the digital assets that are covered by the law include online account information like passwords, identification, cloud account details, web domains, and the like.
As digital assets are becoming a part of estate planning. It is crucial that you conduct an inventory check of all your digital assets and digital liabilities. Next, you should consider whom to provide access to each item and the way you want your digital assets and liabilities to be handled upon death. It is a good idea to consult a lawyer to discuss about your digital assets.