Can you see a world without the internet and smartphones? You probably shudder at the thought. According to the Pew Research Center, "about a quarter of U.S. adults say they are ‘almost constantly’ online." The study also reported that about 77% of Americans go online daily. This is hardly a shocker.
Forbes’ recent article, “You Should Have An Estate Plan For Your Facebook Account,” explains that, as the internet has become a constant in our lives, our personal and financial data is stored online more than ever.
While the internet makes our lives much easier and everything is available with a mouse click, there are also some real issues for those who need to retrieve our digital assets after we’re gone. Digital assets include things like your personal e-mail accounts, online bank and brokerage accounts, frequent flier miles and social media websites. These may not seem like they have much value, but the value is in the vital data they contain—or the sentimental value of photos that are no longer kept in hard copy.
You should make special arrangements for your digital assets in advance. This allows the executor of your will to have access to this information. Provide the passwords of your computer and back-up hard drives to your executor, if you’re storing your documents this way. If you’re storing your documents in the cloud, be sure that your executor has access to these accounts.
Even if you provide your usernames and passwords to your executor or a family member, he or she may have issues with the vendor service agreement that denies him or her the ability to access, manage, distribute, copy, delete or even close accounts.
There’s a new statute, the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (RUFADAA) that addresses whether and how a family member, executor, attorney-in-fact or trustee can access digital assets. Many states have introduced or adopted RUFADAA. This law is different from state laws governing estate administration, powers of attorney, and trusts. It doesn’t presume that family members and fiduciaries can access digital assets because of their relationship with the account owner. The statute requires express authorization, before anyone is allowed to access the content of a digital asset.
It is possible to invest in a password manager, which maintains a record of your online accounts and passwords in a digital vault. These accounts can be set up in advance to provide access to a representative at a specific event, like your death or incapacity.
Make a list of your digital assets and store it in a location where your personal representative can access it. Talk to your estate planning attorney about adding language to your will that grants your executor the authority to access your non-financial digital assets and accounts. You can also ask him or her about adding terms to your power-of-attorney documents that will grant your POA agent authority to act on your behalf with your digital accounts and assets. If you have assets in a trust, consider amending the trust agreement with language that will let the trustee access digital assets and accounts.
Take a look at the policies of your online service providers concerning the death or disability of account owners. Each one has its own procedures. To ensure that your agent will be able to access these accounts, review these procedures and make sure the instructions in your estate planning documents match the information provided to the online account provider’s access-authorization portal.
Reference: Forbes (June 3, 2018) “You Should Have An Estate Plan For Your Facebook Account”