What Happens to Your Online Life After Death?
Cornwall wills and estate planning lawyer Michele Allinotte discusses online accounts and digital assets.
If you are reading this article, you are also doing other things on the internet at the same time. Likely, you have multiple tabs open with your email, Facebook, blogs, and other sites you visit regularly. What would happen to all those accounts if you passed away? What would you want to happen to those accounts?
Your online life can have significant sentimental value (i.e., Facebook or Google photos or a personal blog, etc.) and also a monetary value (i.e., Paypal, online gaming accounts, reseller accounts, points programs, cryptocurrency, etc.).
Terms of service for all these accounts will set out what the service provider’s terms are in the event of a death. If you read a few terms of service, you will notice they are all different and you may not end up with the result you want.
Take the time to think about all your online accounts and what you might want to happen to them after you pass away. If these accounts are important to you, you need to list these accounts and include clear instructions to a specific person about your wishes with respect to these accounts after your death. You will also need to consider how this person will access your accounts after your death.
Providing access to your accounts after death can be tricky. Many services have a mechanism for you to name a legacy contact, or someone who would be able to access your account after your death. The Society of Trust and Estates Practitioners (STEP) has provided a helpful guide about which services offer this and how to designate someone. You can access that article here. STEP also has created a digital assets inventory, available for download here.
We are always signing up for new services and changing passwords. One option to provide access after death is to include a list of the accounts and passwords in a sealed envelope with your lawyer. This would need to be changed when passwords change, so it is not super practical.
One thing we often recommend to clients is to track passwords and save them in an electronic file on your computer, smartphone or use an online service like LastPass or 1Password, and then leave instructions with your lawyer (or someone you trust) about how the electronic list can be accessed. On a personal note, I use LastPass and have left instructions to an individual I trust about how to access that account (and thus all of my online accounts) after my death.
If you don’t want to use a specific form for your digital assets inventory, craft an email to your executor about all your email addresses, social media accounts, online accounts, point programs, etc. If you provide email addresses and user names, but not passwords, at least your executor will know that these accounts exist and can take steps to address them after your death.
As with any other estate planning issue, be sure to discuss your online life or digital assets and accounts with the lawyer who prepares your wills, so they can ensure that your wishes are addressed. At Journey Law, all our wills contain a digital asset clause, to ensure your executor can deal with these assets on your death.