What would happen to your Facebook account in case of your untimely death? Your email? Your online bank account? Your computer that is protected by a password? Your small business payroll system? Once you stop to think about the issue, you realize that without proper planning, finding and accessing your online accounts may be incredibly difficult, if not outright impossible, for the survivors.

What are digital assets? These can be digital accounts (such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Paypal, Amazon, etc), or digital assets (such as music files, photographs, Dropbox documents, Bitcoins, etc).

Why plan for these assets?

  • To ease the burden on the surviving relatives. Without a comprehensive list of accounts with passwords, survivors may never get the necessary information that you had wanted to share.

  • To prevent identity theft. There are multiple ways for thieves to obtain people’s information. With no one monitoring the accounts that relatives may not even be aware of, identity theft is rampant.

  • To preserve the digital legacy. Facebook refuses to provide information about the account to survivors once it is aware that the account holder has passed away. Other internet companies have similar provisions.  Your entire digital life may be erased.

  • To determine privacy issues. With advance planning, you have the ability to determine which accounts are acceptable to share with your relatives and the rest of the world, and which should remain private forever.

What happens if the survivors are not aware of accounts or passwords? Potentially, a crime! Federal laws criminalize the unauthorized access of computers and digital accounts and prohibit most service providers from disclosing account information to anyone without the account holder’s consent.  By law, if an executor hires a computer specialist to find out the password on an account, under both federal and state laws, the executor is guilty either of a crime or a misdemeanor. You do not want to put the survivors in the position where their only option would be to commit a crime.

How to plan for digital assets?

  • You can create an inventory of all your accounts, together with passwords and security questions.

  • Include appropriate provisions in the will, giving your executor authority to access the digital assets.

  • Include appropriate language in the Power of Attorney ,  giving your your agent authority to access your digital accounts.

  • Consider digital estate planning services

  • Back up regularly

This article only offers general information.  Each situation is unique. It is always helpful to talk to a specialized attorney, to figure out your various options and ramifications of actions.  As every case has subtle differences, please do not use this article for legal advice. Only a signed engagement letter will create an attorney client relationship.