Over the past few years more and more attention has been paid to the value of “digital” assets and the need to account for them in estate planning. Yet, for all the increased awareness, there is still a long way to go before all families properly plan for handing online access and property issues. A Private Wealth story recently highlighted one of the main problems: failing to provide others with access to crucial username and password details.
Extra Burden on the Family
Many of us have a myriad of usernames and passwords that we use to control our online lives. These include social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, blogs), email addresses, online banking data, and more. Many families are plagued with administrative nightmares when a loved one dies without providing a way to access these accounts.
Those families who do not have access to digital assets are often faced with two options. On one hand they can try to guess the information, but this is often a frustrating and unsuccessful chore. On top of that, it may actually violate privacy laws.
Alternatively, the family can contact the service provider themselves (i.e Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Instagram, Blogger, WordPress) and try to get them to provide access. Unfortunately, there is no uniform process by which these companies provide information. Their own “Terms of Service” vary significantly regarding what hoops have to be jumped through and what information will be released. After all, there are some who might want to keep information private, even after death, and so the companies are careful in what information they provide to others.
For this reason, it is important to think through exactly what you want to provide digital access to others and put plans in place to make the transition easy. This might including written information on those usernames and passwords with other testamentary documents. It could also mean using certain online tools (i.e. Legacy Locker) to safeguard the information and release it appropriately.
More Than Just Paperwork
Providing access to online accounts is about much more than allowing family members to close accounts and handle administrative details. It is also about providing them access to important assets that may have immense sentimental value. Photos, videos, blog entries, emails, and other correspondence may prove to be a critical heirloom that family members use to remember their loved one. For example, nowadays traditional photo albums are becoming obsolete and replaced with online albums. It is critical to ensure loved ones have access to things items.
For help with these and many other estate planning concerns in Manhattan, Albany, White Plains, and throughout the state, please contact our NY estate planning lawyers for help.