What About All That Online Stuff?
It’s easy to lose track of how much our lives are intertwined with the worldwide web. We spend hours and hours documenting our existence these days, with videos, pictures, and written content uploaded to our online accounts in massive amounts.
We used to pass on Grandma’s picture album, or Grandpa’s WWII letters to home. But because so much of our personal and sentimental life is no longer physical or tangible, special considerations should be made for these assets. By tradition, diaries and journals of family members who have passed away are treasured possessions. Now, blogs and social media are our modern diaries. Your stories may be lost if you fail to take steps to protect your digital assets.
Finances must also be addressed, as many families no longer receive paper statements and bills, and family members may have a lot of difficulty accessing needed information. Routine bills, for instance, are often managed through online accounts which allow people to ‘go paperless.’ If you pass away and your family members and/or executor aren’t aware of your online bills, late fees can accumulate or essential services may be cancelled.
What Solutions Exist?
New laws and services are being developed to address the issue of how to handle the digital assets of deceased persons, including online accounts, businesses, pictures, videos, blogs, digital music, and more.
It’s important that your information is maintained and kept current. There are many ways to ensure your digital assets will not be neglected or forgotten. Read user agreements for your various online assets. Some allow for beneficiary designations, and some allow family members to memorialize accounts of lost loved ones.
You can create a master document of user names and passwords in your estate plan and disclose the location of the document to your trusted helpers and advisors.
There are also several companies that offer “digital afterlife services,” including Google’s recent launch of its Inactive Account Manager. Google’s Account Manager lets you decide ahead of time what happens to an inactive account. Some of the other services let you create an account which holds a comprehensive list of all digital assets and the access information, and sometimes will include instructions on how to designate beneficiaries for some of your assets.
Most importantly, now is the time to inventory your digital assets and begin thinking about what will happen when you pass away. Keep your inventory up-to-date and when you create new accounts, take steps to ensure a trusted person can gain access once you aren’t able.