Your Digital After Life
Should your heirs be able to access your online accounts after you die?
The internet is such a relatively recent adventure that everyone is still trying to figure out what should and shouldn’t happen to your online accounts after you die.
Currently, according to a PEW research article entitled What happens to your digital life after death? some states are beginning to pass laws to regulate who can and cannot access digital accounts like Facebook, or a website you run, or your email accounts.
They say in that article:
“Until the legal procedures are made clear experts are advising people to treat their digital assets as they would any other asset. They recommend that users appoint someone to be in control, make a list of accounts and passwords, and give clear instructions on how to handle each individual account.”
Most people don’t think about including anything related to online accounts as part of their estate planning – after all, there is nothing important there – right?
Wrong, as you well know. Here are a few things to consider.
Bills sent via email.
To save postage, our condo association sends our dues by email. If I died, my spouse would not know to check for it (unless I hadn’t told him to!) and he would end up several months in arrears before anyone bothered to call him up to inquire about it.
Safety deposit boxes paid electronically without notice via USPS.
Sometimes it is hard for your heirs to find all of your treasures. The search for safe deposit boxes gets harder if you don’t get paper bank statements. Your heirs may never discover that you had one and the money would eventually be ‘lost’ to the state (heirs can reclaim it but the process is ugly in my state).
A survivor other than your named executor uses your accounts because they have your password.
Not all families are on a friendly basis. If, for example, you have a sibling living with you but want your assets to go to your kids, your sibling may fraudulently get into your online bank or investment account and drain it by using the passwords you have stored in your files. The institution would be held blameless and your kids would have to go after your sibling to get their inheritance.
Your legacy pictures stored in the cloud could disappear from your family forever.
No one prints pictures anymore right? They are in the cloud, on a website, in your phone. All of these require an account. If the account disappears it may be hard to get back those precious snapshots.
Your family tree website disappears.
Some folks keep their family tree on sites such as Ancestry.com. All of your hard work in researching, documenting and sharing the family history may be for naught if your heirs and descendants can’t snag it and keep it alive for future generations.
Your company website might get hacked – or taken down.
Unless others are involved in maintaining your business websites, software updates probably won’t be done after you die. This could make it easier of hackers to get access to the account and depending on what you have stored in your web host’s databases, or could lead to lawsuits and other nasty actions. If your monthly web hosting payment is missed, your site will be taken down by your hosting company!
Part of your assets may be missed.
Do you use Paypal or some other money/transaction processing site that is totally online? Unless you leave word behind that you have it, the assets in it will be lost and eventually escheated to the state.
I’ve been remiss in this area by not communicating mine to anyone other than my spouse! My son’s wouldn’t know to look for them.
Your identity could be stolen after death.
According to Daily Finance article Death and Finances: Eight Things to Do After a Loved One Passes Away
“Carrying out the duties of an executor also means protecting the deceased person and his or her heirs against financial fraud and exploitation.”
Their suggestions include things such as:
- Not putting too much detail into the obituary. Crooks scan these not only to see when to go rob the home (while the memorial or funeral service occurs) but also to pick up juicy personal details like birthdate, mother’s maiden name, address and etc. Then they use these to steal the dead persons identity. Did you know that you can get the social security number of deceased people – Ancestry software cds listed tons of them when I bought it in the 1990’s.
- Be careful when posting to social media. Putting too much detail out there makes it easier for those identity thieves.
- Don’t leave unprotected copies of birth or death certificates lying around.
- Shred or burn any of the deceased documents that are no longer needed – especially those with account or financial information on them.
You may be ‘the undead’ for years digitally.
Although it most likely has happened in the past, it is a bit gruesome to find out that people die and no one discovers it for years. With online activities growing exponentially, paying your bills after death (and continuing to receive your income as well) may make that more common. This CNN article describes a Michigan woman who had auto bill pay set up and whose mummified body wasn’t found for 5 years (until her bank account finally went to a zero balance)!
Don’t be found years after your death. Stay in touch with people.
Don’t cause your heirs to lose the assets for which you worked so hard. Include your digital life in your estate plan.
What do you think should happen to digital accounts after you die? If you have thought about it, what do you want to happen to yours?