Planning for Your Social Media Life When You Die (Video)

What happens to your Farmville account when you have bought the farm?  Pretty much anyone who is reading this has a digital life, footprint and assets.  The problem is that your state laws (except for 4 states - not New Jersey) are very behind in saying who controls your digital assets when you die.  Who gets to say if your Facebook account is memorialized or deleted?  Can your spouse or kids get access to your gMail account (perhaps the only place you are getting all those digital account statements)?  

Lawyers.com wanted their visitors to know the answer to these questions, and asked me to give them some of the advice we speak to client's about who want to know how to incorporate their digital assets into your estate plan.  The best part?  They sent a production team to make a video on the topic, so sit back and take 3 minute education break:

 

Your Online Afterlife

What happens to your Facebook chats, Flickr photos,LinkedIn connections, and Twitter witticisms when you die. Will your friends and family have access to your "digital memory"?

The short answer: "No".  in fact, getting friends and family access to your passwords, and thereby your social media identity, is most likely strictly forbidden in the privacy policies of the social media venues you frequent. While you're Personal Representative (executor, trustee, administrator) it may be able to access this information, it may also require a court order to do so.

So what can be done to safeguard your online persona? KATU out of Seattle to reports today that "Digital death coverage is a growing business. There are websites that help you bequeath your accounts to others and inform your online friends that you’re dead."

One such website has the the warm and fuzzy name of deathswitch.com.  Apparently the site will continuously since you an e-mail, and if you don't respond within a certain period of time, carry out your "final instructions". I didn't put a link in, because when I went to the site, it crashed my browser.  This highlights the problems with any kind of "online vault". Who's running it? What are they doing with the information you're putting in there? Are you putting your online passwords in one place, that could then be accessed by other parties for malicious purposes?

A better solution?  Treat your online persona with the same amount of care that you treat your online financial records.  I previously posted You Die - Your Passwords And User Names Die With You (way back in 2007), but the advice holds true today.

The best way to address concerns raised by virtual assets in the electronic age from an estate planning and estate administration perspective is to employ some practical advice:

  • Create a spreadsheet of login and password information
  • Update the spreadsheet WHENEVER a change is made
  • Save the spreadsheet to a removable media format (CD, DVD-R, USB Flash-Drive, etc).
  • Store the removable media format in a safe location that your spouse, power of attorney, key adult child(ren) and attorney are aware of (safe deposit box, fireproof vault, drawer in the house where the important stuff is).
  • If you password protect the file, make sure that your spouse, power of attorney, key adult child(ren) and attorney are aware of the password
  • MOST IMPORTANT - Update the spreadsheet whenever a change is made

Photo Attribution: http://bit.ly/9hz6Kh