In an increasingly digital world, it becomes important to consider what becomes of an individual’s online footprint. Who will shut down their online profiles and should they? What about online blogs or drop-ship stores? When creating an estate plan, these are some of the questions people now need to find answers for.
Fidelity points out that some of a person’s digital footprints are assets. For instance, a person might own a monetized website or sell electronic copies of their books on eBay. People with digital assets need to consider the digital part of their estate plan even more than others.
Obstacles to consider
Unfortunately, when someone passes away, there are many challenges loved ones face when trying to access accounts. Here are just a few of these:
- Family members might not know the passwords or answers to the security questions.
- Even when families access devices, data encryption might make it difficult to get access to the information these devices contain.
- Data privacy laws make it difficult or impossible for companies to provide access to online accounts to anyone but the original owners.
- Criminal laws prohibit unauthorized access to individuals’ personal information.
Tips people can follow
There are a few suggestions Fidelity makes when it comes to including digital accounts in an estate plan. Here are the most important ones:
- Make a list of all accounts or digital assets so family members can find them.
- Provide consent to online platforms and accounts in legal documents.
- Double-check licensing agreements on digital assets, which may not be transferable.
- Consider physical backups to cloud data that family members know how to access.
Many states are now putting laws in place to tackle the issue of the online data that decedents leave behind. According to Bankrate, in 2015, California considered restricting survivors’ access to the email accounts of the deceased. To bypass this, families would need consent from the deceased.