Death in the Digital Age
As you update your Facebook page, have you ever wondered how your beneficiaries could obtain access to your “digital assets” upon your death? Indeed, could they access your digital assets if you were incapacitated during your lifetime? Prudent people plan through financial powers of attorney for incapacity during lifetime, or for the disposition of their financial assets and real estate upon their deaths under their wills. Not enough attention has been paid to digital assets. “So attention must be paid,” as Willy Loman said.
Does the persons (or institution) that would act as your agent during life, or as your executor upon death, know the location of your passwords and usernames? Do they know whether you have an Amazon account or are active with social media sites? As part of your estate planning, you should prepare an inventory of such information. You may even consider expressly providing for access by your agent during life or by your executor upon death.
Google, for example, has available an “inactive account” option that allows notices to be sent to specified persons if there is no activity on your account for a predetermined period of time. For example, if your Gmail/Google account were to be dormant for several months, 30 days prior to your predetermined deadline, you would receive a warning email or text alert. After the deadline has passed, the action you set for your account will occur. This action could include deletion of the account.
You may consider giving some attention to the disposition of these “assets”. After all, your digital assets may be every bit as valuable as the china, silver or fishing rods used to be, and may provide access to financial assets.
Jon Gruber is an attorney at Russell, Krafft and Gruber, LLP in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He received his law degree from the University of Virginia and practices in a variety of areas, including Estate Planning and Estate and Trust Administration.