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Often forgotten in an estate plan: Digital assets

What happens to your Facebook profile when you pass away? Will your wide network of friends know? Who decides what happens to your account?

Facebook recently launched a new service that allows a user to appoint a Legacy Contact who can access and modify his or her account after he or she dies. The Legacy Contact could write a post on the timeline, download photos and posts or delete the account.

This leads to the question of what exactly is a digital asset. Social media, email accounts, blogs, cloud storage such as Drop Box or Shutterfly accounts all contain sentimental pictures, videos and letters. Bank information and content libraries are also valuable.

No uniform procedure

Technology has changed quickly over the last several decades, but estate planning laws have not kept up. In Colorado, there is no law on the books that protects your digital assets or gives family members access to manage the accounts after a death.

Ownership issues can easily arise with digital assets. Companies also have different policies. For instance, Twitter and LinkedIn remove or deactivate an account when notified of a death. Google on the other hand has a service that will provide a specified person with access to Gmail and YouTube similar to the Facebook service.

Passwords and backups

In addition to creating a will, power of attorney and possibly a trust, you can do the following things to protect your digital assets:

  • List out all of your digital accounts, including iTunes and Amazon
  • Appoint a trusted individual to manage the accounts
  • Store an updated list of usernames and passwords in a secure location
  • Download and backup important documents

If you do not yet have an estate plan, you can add digital property into the discussion. Anyone with children, property, significant assets or an ownership stake in a business needs to have a comprehensive estate plan.

Source: MarketWatch.com, “The social network’s Legacy Contact feature,” Steve Cook, May 6, 2015

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