Digital footprint dilemma: how to handle your digital assets after you're gone

Digital footprint dilemma: how to handle your digital assets after you're gone

Group News posted in on 20 March 2017| comments
audience: The Boston Foundation | last updated: 20 March 2017
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These days most everyone leaves some sort of digital footprint at death. To this end, whether it be your e-mail inbox, iTunes library, digital photo album, Facebook account, etc., odds are that your family will want to access one or more of your “digital assets” after you are gone.

In addition to the obvious sentimental reasons driving a family member’s desire to access your digital assets (e.g., you saved all of your summer vacation photos to your iCloud), access to other digital assets can prove to be quite important for the proper administration of an estate. For example, consider an individual who conducts all of his personal banking online. Upon his death, that individual’s personal representative (also known as his “executor”) may have no other way of determining where the decedent’s bank accounts are held without access to the decedent’s e-mail account, which is where the decedent received and stored the statements.

This predicament begs the question of not only whether the personal representative has the requisite information to log-in to the decedent’s e-mail account, but also whether the decedent would want his personal representative having total access to his e-mails. To further complicate matters, the law in some states has yet to catch up with technology, so in many circumstances, and depending on actions the decedent took during life, it remains unclear whether a personal representative is legally authorized to access a decedent’s digital assets. That said, in states such as New York that have passed the Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act a personal representative’s authority to access digital assets is much clearer.

In order to help avoid the above conundrum and countless others like it, many companies have started to allow customers to specify what should happen with their online accounts upon death. For instance, Gmail users can designate an “inactive account manager” who will be granted access to an e-mail account after a specified period of user inactivity. Similarly, Facebook allows you to designate a “legacy contact” to manage your account after death.

While there is no silver bullet to resolve all the uncertainties regarding how digital assets are dealt with after death, taking proactive steps during life to identify your digital assets and make sure that you have positioned those you trust to access such assets in the event of your death (or incapacity) can help avoid headaches down the road.

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The Boston Foundation
75 Arlington Street 10th Floor
Boston, MA 02116
United States
Phone: 1 617-338-1700
Fax: 1 617-338-1605

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