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What Happens To Digital Accounts After A Loved One Passes?

“Digital assets” are a distinctly 21st century concern, referring to a person’s email, social media, digital photographs and even gaming avatars—pretty much anything you’ve created or stored on a computer. When we create this kind of online content, we never think about what might happen to it after we die. The reality is, though, that our digital assets will survive long after we’re gone from this plane.

The question that naturally arises, then, is: what happens to this material after we pass away?

A box of letters or treasured photographs kept in an attic would become a cherished memento for surviving family members. A hard drive full of emails is less romantic, but no less personal to the one who wrote and received them.

The question of what to do with one’s digital assets is not easy to answer. Grieving family members want access for sentimental reasons, and sometimes to settle issues of inheritance. When you die, should your loved ones have access to your Facebook, email, OKCupid, Tumblr or other online accounts?

A person’s online thoughts, pictures and other creative work can occasionally be monetarily meaningful as well. Imagine the value of digital files created by someone of historical significance, and what those files might be worth to biographers or collectors.

“The digital world is a different world,” says Ginger McCall, associate director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington. “No one would keep 10 years’ [worth] of every communication they ever had … under their bed.” It is clear that in the modern world, we need to make some decisions about how to proceed with this matter.

Most people think they can choose to simply share certain passwords with a trusted family member. But the “terms of service” agreements used by most companies prohibit access to an account by anyone but the account’s creator.

Even going so far as to share passwords in one’s will becomes problematic, because when a will becomes public record those passwords would obviously be revealed to the public.

The Uniform Law Commission, a group of attorneys appointed by state governments to assist in the standardization of state laws, has recently endorsed a plan which would automatically give family members access to a loved one’s digital accounts, unless otherwise stated in a will. The family will only be able to read the information, not add to or delete it.

Once the proposed legislation becomes law, designating such access will become a vital tool in estate planning, and will allow people to choose which accounts should die when they do.

The proposal states that the deceased’s appointed representative would get access to a person’s digital files as long as access is not prohibited in the will. This would supersede access rules in any given company’s terms of service agreement.

That means, for instance, that a widow could read her deceased husband’s emails, but she would not be able to send emails from that account.

Can a Hoffman Estates Lawyer Help Me Make a Sound Estate Plan?

The Hoffman Estates lawyers of MacDonald, Lee & Senechalle, Ltd. can help you make a legally sound estate plan, including up-to-the-minute technologies that may affect your loved ones after your passing. Our years of experience in creating important estate planning documents means we will make sure that the law upholds your wishes in the distribution of your assets.

We understand that you can only make the decisions about what to do with your estate once, and we want to ensure that your will reflects your final wishes. To find out everything you need to know about your will and other estate planning documents, contact us today.


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