The quality of the Smartphone cameras has improved to the point it is hard to lug along the digital SLR. As we document the big and little occasions on these devices, image and video storage often remains digital - a Google photo account, YouTube channel or somewhere else in the cloud. When was the last time you printed anything?
What happens to these proverbial digital shoe boxes after death? Companies (Facebook, Gmail, YouTube and Twitter) generally own these assets. They each have developed their own policies that can trump individual wishes about transfers and access after the loss of a loved one.
Will great, great grandchildren see Facebook memories?
The Facebook memories that pop up from two years ago inspire nostalgia for every parent who may only then realize how quickly time is really passing. If ownership of a Facebook account passed to loved ones, could these memories be coming up in 100 years for subsequent generations to marvel at the baby picture of great, great grandma?
It is impossible to predict whether Facebook will stay around or what the preferred method of communication will be.
Digital data - texts, photographs, tweets, Snapchats - all have a good chance of being lost. Anything that is important enough to pass down requires some extra thought.
Access to accounts
Many states, including Colorado, have passed a uniform digital assets law. This allows an executor/personal representative access to email and social media profiles.
The law is silent on how this takes place. Right now, the person administering an estate has to contact each company to find out what they require for access to the deceased person's accounts.
And in states that haven't passed the law, it is up to the company to decide what happens. Yahoo, an extreme example, deletes account when users die. It also forbids access afterward, so important emails stored in a yahoo account can be lost. In Massachusetts, questions related to the interplay between the state uniform digital assets law and Yahoo terms or service agreements are playing out in state court.
Planning as technology accelerates
A first step is to write down a list of digital assets. In addition to some listed above, consider iTunes account, digital media accounts, frequent flyer miles or other reward accounts. Do you want a Facebook account or email account deleted?
Where should you list usernames and passwords? Do not amend these to a will, which becomes a public document. Password management software is an option that allows for easy updates and access by your personal representative.
In subsequent posts, we will provide more information for digital asset estate planning.