If You Have an Online Presence

Think for a moment about how much time you spend online on a typical day.  You probably check your e-mail a few times.  Maybe you pay some bills (since you no longer receive bills in the mail) or check your latest bank or brokerage account statements (since those no longer come in the mail either).  Perhaps you organize some photos on a picture-storage site (since you no longer print and store paper copies of photos), or update your status on Facebook (since that is how your friends and family members keep in touch).

Now think about what would happen if you were to die suddenly:

  • Would your personal representative (i.e. the person who would be charged with managing your estate) know what your assets are?  How could he or she even be able to start looking for your assets, if all of your account statements are electronic, and no one but you knew what the passwords for your accounts were?
  • What would happen to your e-mail account?  Would you want a loved one (say, a spouse, parent or child) to be able to access your account?  Or would you specifically not want any survivors to be able to access your e-mail?
  • What would happen to your Facebook page, Twitter account, or any blogs that you might have created?  What do you want to have happen?  Have you put mechanisms in place that would allow your wishes to be carried out?
  • Are your family photos accessible to your loved ones?  It might be devastating to your survivors if all your photos are on your computer and/or stored in the cloud, but no one has the passwords necessary to access them.
  • If you conduct business online (e.g. if you sell items on E-Bay or Etsy), would you want someone to be able to continue your business, or at least to wind up your business?

The disposition of digital assets is a brand-new area of estate planning, and the laws in this area are in a very early stage of development.  There are often more questions than answers regarding estate planning for digital assets, but a good estate planner can at least raise the pertinent issues with you, and help you take some steps to try to preserve your legacy the way that you would want it preserved.