Name agents in your documents to deal with your on-line accounts.
In our increasingly digital age, much of our social and financial lives are played out on-line or in the cloud. That means that our digital footprints will eventually outlive us, leaving family and estate executors to sift through the virtual remains – photos and videos, social media accounts, subscriptions, online bills – to access items of financial and personal value, pay final bills, and close accounts.
What happens to your online accounts after you die depends on the laws in your state (in Michigan it is the Michigan Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act, effective June 27, 2016), the types of accounts involved and the terms of service governing the accounts. An executor does not automatically gain access to the accounts unless the deceased person has made specific arrangements. And heirs often find that they don’t have clear authority to access or manage a family member’s accounts. But with a few simple steps, you can increase the odds that your digital footprint will be handled according to your wishes.
Make an Inventory. You’ll need to make a list of what you have, name someone to act on your behalf, and provide your designee with access and instructions. Start by creating an inventory of your important online accounts and their passwords and note your wishes or instructions for any you would like handled in a specific way. For example, you may request that your social media accounts be deleted or that digital photos stored in the cloud be shared with specific people.
But despite your best efforts, complications may still arise. Passwords expire, people forget to update their lists, and many sites require two-factor authentication that could go to a cell phone or email address that is no longer accessible. Or a website’s terms of service agreement may prohibit anyone other than the original user from accessing the account. Many sites delete account upon receiving notice that a user has died.
Solving the glitches. The Michigan Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act allows you to designate a legal representative to access your digital assets after your death or during a period of incapacity. You can provide that access through a Will, Power of Attorney and/or Trust. I recommend placing the power to access digital assets in all three documents. You will need to update your documents and work with an estate planner so your plans conform to the law.
A small but growing number of online services have started to offer users a way to allow access to their accounts. Facebook, for example, allows users to have their accounts deleted upon death or to designate a digital heir with the right to manage portions of the account, which will be turned into a memorial page. (Visit the general account settings page and select “Memorialization Settings”). Google will let you select up to 10 trusted contacts who can access your Gmail, photos and more if your account is inactive for several months.
Excerpts taken from an article written by Kaitlin Pitsker in the February 2020 edition of Kiplinger’s Personal Finance.
If you have any questions on estate planning, please call Karen L. Stewart, Attorney and Counselor at (248) 735-0900.
For more information, please see my website, www.customestateplans.com.