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Digital Accounts and Estate Planning

| Aug 10, 2017 | Estate Planning |

In this modern century, our lives are lived online more and more. The younger you are, the more likely you are to have multiple online accounts. There are more than 1 billion monthly Gmail users (Lardinois, 2016), and roughly 8 in 10 Americans use Facebook (Greenwood, 2016). Once all of the utility, banking, shopping, and other social media accounts are included, there are anywhere from 10 to 100 possible digital accounts for each person (Dashlane, 2015). With all of these digital accounts at our disposal, how are these accounts maintained, closed, or deleted should you become incapacitated or after your passing?

Facebook is especially notorious for not allowing access to a deceased person’s account, even to spouses, unless there is a legal document in place that grants that person access without already having the password. With Facebook, if your spouse or loved one is unable to log in and delete or close the account, your account is archived instead, which means that new friends can’t be added but everyone who was already a friend can still see and interact with your profile.

Instead of letting your accounts linger, a better solution may be to include language in your estate plans authorizing your personal representative to access online accounts and close or delete them as necessary. Then you could keep a list of account and login information stored in a safe place, which your representative can then access to follow your wishes regarding your accounts.

This applies to more than just social media: there are banking, loan, mortgage, and stock accounts; utilities; service accounts like mechanics, libraries, etc.; and subscription accounts, like newspapers, magazines, and shopping. Sites like justdelete.me allow you to close old accounts quickly and easily, but your agent or personal representative likely will not be able to delete accounts without having those passwords.

Even if the unexpected happens and you become incapacitated, it helps to have an agent or representative assigned and able to help in case you can no longer make those decisions. Digital accounts are often the last thing anyone thinks of, but there is an argument to be made for including them in your estate plans: hackers and scam artists can locate dormant social media accounts and access any information available to the public from your accounts to put together enough information to steal your identity, hack into your accounts to pretend to be you and potentially hack your friends, or just hack your accounts to steal them from you and turn to their own purposes, such as spamming or scamming others. It’s terrible when this happens to someone who is still able to do something about it on their own; it’s heart-wrenching when it happens to the accounts of someone incapacitated or deceased, and creates a new worry for your loved ones to face.

Lardinois, Frederic. February 1, 2016. “Gmail Now Has More Than 1B Monthly Active Users.” TechCrunch. https://techcrunch.com/2016/02/01/gmail-now-has-more-than-1b-monthly-active-users/

Greenwood, Shannon, Andrew Perrin, and Maeve Duggan. November 11, 2016. “Social Media Update 2016.” Pew Research Center. http://www.pewinternet.org/2016/11/11/social-media-update-2016/

July 21, 2015. “Do we have too many passwords?” Dashlane. https://blog.dashlane.com/infographic-online-overload-its-worse-than-you-thought/