For some people, the term “estate planning” conjures up images of wealthy families complaining about the estate tax. However, estate planning is an important responsibility for all adults with assets that they wish to leave behind. This is especially true today as most people are becoming increasingly familiar with the use of various online accounts. Online accounts can be used for a variety of different things, ranging from online banking to social media. As technology becomes an ever-increasing aspect of each of our lives, almost everyone needs to consider the management of online accounts during a period of disability or in case of death when considering the various important aspects of estate planning.
According to WealthManagement.com, several states have adopted relatively similar laws that allow individuals to control access to online accounts in the case of disability and/r death. While individuals serving in roles such as an executor or trustee can generally access information related to electronic communication that includes the sender, recipient, and date/time of a message, they typically need a court order to access the content of these communications. However, new legislation allows you to control scenarios in which individuals could get greater access in three ways:
- Account Providers – Online social media sites often allow users to elect to have their account deleted upon death or to name an individual that can access the account in case of death. They often allow an individual to control the amount of access others may have, but sometimes require the named individual to also have an account with them.
- Through Estate Planning Tools – By naming an individual as a beneficiary through a Will, trust, or power of attorney you can control access to your online accounts and circumvent restrictions the online account provider may have in place. However, if you do name an individual through this method, you should be sure to update or delete contradictory nominations made directly to the account provider because those will supersede your estate planning documents.
- Terms of Service – Typically, online account providers have rather lengthy terms of service that many people simply agree to without reading through. Unfortunately, important information about situations like disability and death are generally included in these terms of service, and they will control access to your account in the circumstances covered by those terms.
While not all states have laws allowing these types of tools, estate planning law is constantly evolving and experienced estate planning attorneys can help you stay on top of changes that could impact your estate plan.
Having a Plan
While you can certainly keep login information such as usernames and passwords written down in a place where a designated individual can access it, you can still provide greater security by having a plan in place. Such plans can help survive legal challenges to access and cover you in case you have updated access information but forgotten to update where you have written it down. The most important aspect of a plan to address online account access is to make sure that you have a list of all of your online accounts. You may be surprised to find out how many online accounts you use on a regular basis and how many may need to be accessed in case of your disability and/or death. It is especially important to include financial accounts and to be aware of accounts that might have digital property like photos or important documents stored in them. An experienced estate planning attorney can help you manage your digital property as well as access to such accounts in the case of disability and/or death.