We know here in Rogers, Bella Vista, and Bentonville, there are a lot of retirees that have been the target of digital data scams. Our community is not alone. Across the world, 91 percent of internet users have at least one social media account, but the majority have a digital presence across several. According to Adweek, the average internet user has access to five different social media platforms. This digital footprint has become a valuable, personal asset and liability.
So, what happens to your social media accounts or your other online accounts when you pass away? It’s clear that people will continue to grow and accumulate reams of data, photos, and information until they die. The “privacy” waters are crystal clear when it comes to paper documents or data a person has once they pass. However, it gets murky around the concept of digital data. Most of the time, this digital information is controlled by the companies that store it – regardless of what the user wishes or directs after their death.
The legal environment is playing catch up by trying to put laws into place to protect against this. A group of lawyers across the country have developed a draft uniform law that many states have in place, against unwanted privacy breaches. They are encouraging all 50 states to adopt this. This law would allow people to specify in their wills that the executor of their estate can access their email and social media profiles. Good news is that 39 states have adopted this legislature while seven more are considering it.
Courts have not been asked to rule on this yet and the uniform law does not specify exactly how this access should happen. For now, a dead person’s executor must contact the company behind each digital platform to determine how to get into the person’s accounts.
In those states who have not adopted this law, these companies can decide whether to allow loved one’s access to a late relative’s digital assets.
Since this is such a grey area, it is important for people to be sure they include digital assets in their estate planning. These digital assets may hold messages or images of significant importance to you or your family.
These days, everyone has their email connected to their accounts, the majority of companies have this as a required field. For example, financial services, banking, doctors, and utilities. Having access to these can help administer someone’s estate. It is also critically important to protect the privacy of the person who has passed. The uniform state law does this by requiring a person to leave specific, written permission for their executor to access their email account.
One suggestion is to create a list of the accounts in your name, determine which email addresses you want your executor to access and which ones should be deleted. For security reasons, do not list usernames and passwords in your will. You may not know, but your will becomes a public document upon your death. To combat this, record your digital access information in a safe place and leave instructions for your executor to find them.
Estate planning is important, but don’t forget to include your digital assets when putting your plan together. Having this in place can enhance the speed of selling your estate and can help ease the management of your estate when you pass. Your digital assets should be protected and planned in the same way you would for other valuable assets.
Additional Sources: http://www.adweek.com/digital/social-media-accounts/