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Estate Planning For Your Digital Assets


August 17th, 2010

When you last updated your will (have you updated your will?), did you consider what would happen to your digital assets when you passed away? Digital assets are quite simple, really: Facebook, Twitter, PayPal, online banking, email, Snapfish, and myriad other online accounts are included. Do you have a blog? That’s a digital asset (and one that, if your blog is widely read, can be quite a financial asset, too). Depending on how you interact with the world-wide web, you may be concerned about things like this. Even if you are not, you probably should be.

No matter who you are, you have some digital assets. When you pass away, who handles your Facebook account? What if you sell things online via a site like Etsy or Amazon? Protecting not only your account information but who has access to those accounts is an important part of your estate plan in today’s digital world.

One simple step is to keep a list of your online account information in the same place you keep your estate plan and other important documents. That way, your survivors can access the accounts and shut them down or follow other instructions you have committed to writing. In the case of Facebook, for instance, if your family contacts the company and informs them that you have passed away, the website will block new updates to your pages, allowing visitors to “write on your wall” but prohibiting any new posts by you from beyond the grave (or, more accurately, by hackers or anyone else). Facebook’s policy will also make your profile visible only to existing friends at the time of your life, and it will no longer appear in searches after you are gone.

If you do not make your wishes known to your physical assets and your digital ones alike, no one knows what to do and the guessing begins. Your family may shut down your blog and remove it from the web, while you would have preferred it remain online well after your death.  In the 21st century, it is important to state your wishes for your digital assets, not just the ‘ordinary’ ones. Think about how you want your internet activity to be handled when you are gone, and talk to your estate planning attorney about including provisions in your will that make sure your wishes are carried out.

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