It’s rare today to find anyone without some sort of online presence. Many people depend on conveniences like email, online shopping, and banking, but what happens to all of those accounts when we die or become incapacitated? Digital Afterlife has become a hot topic from years of being able to do personal and company business online and then finding out the hard way that no one can access your digital life after you have died.

Digital Afterlife is something you can plan for now so you don’t leave loved ones fighting for access to your online accounts. The most simplistic way is to make a list of all online accounts with login information and keep in a safe place, but often that is not enough. In fact in most cases it is not even legal because of the “non-transferable” terms agreed to when the account was opened.

The number of deceased persons on Facebook is expected to outnumber living members of the social network by 2098. Businesses have now been formed to manage your social media after you have passed away. There is even a company called Dead Social that will schedule your good-bye message to be posted on Facebook and Twitter after your funeral.

Most social media sites now let you designate “Next of Kin” a “Legacy Contact”, or the ability to elect someone to delete your account. For each account you maintain this information must be updated under settings or privacy. Some sites like Yahoo require a letter with proof of death to cancel the account. Updating this information will only allow a person to view and delete parts of the account not be an active user.

This has become such a hot button issue that some attorneys are now advising clients to include a clause in their will leaving digital assets to a named beneficiary and expressing how they want the assets handled in the will. These assets are what you most want to make sure get to your loved ones. Many small businesses and home businesses are operated by one single computer that contains all client info, product info, access to the company website and of course the accounting and banking information. There have been widely publicized cases of business going bankrupt because family could not access any of the accounts. Sadly, Identity thieves are locating their targets straight from the obituary section. If they see the possibility that accounts may go untouched for a long period of time, it gives them even more incentive to attempt hacking them and having them in one place makes it even easier.

What should you do to help ensure the transition of your digital assets when you die or become incapacitated?

Make an inventory of all online accounts and where they are stored. Remember to include shopping and bill pay accounts that keep your credit card on file.
Consider naming a digital trustee in your estate planning documents. This person will strictly deal with your digital assets. Remember the primary beneficiary in your will may not have expertise in the digital world.
Keep your passwords protected. Yes a list needs to be made and updated but you want that list protected as well. Consider using a password protected thumb drive or CD. Remember to include cell phone passwords and PIN numbers connected with accounts.
If any of your accounts are accessed via fingerprint or face recognition become familiar with the terms on those accounts and how they deal with sharing information.

Unfortunately this has become a necessary part of planning as many families have discovered the hard way about the legalities that keep them from being able to access important information in accounts set up by someone who has passed away or become incapacitated. Much like estate planning, and choosing Insurance it is an important step in keeping your digital presence safe and will pay off in the long run.

If you are considering setting up an estate plan and wish to have digital afterlife considerations included, please contact Attorney Jim Brady and Associates, P.C.