Elderly lady typing on laptop

Digital Files could remain forever, unless action is taken.

The digital world has created many new issues which have an impact on almost everyone in today’s world. Unlike your other assets, digital isn’t a tangible item and could exist forever, according to the Press-Republican in “The great digital beyond“.

Digital is a relatively new issue, as people are just beginning to realize. Some information is saved on personal storage space, such as internal and external hard drives and thumb drives. Others live in the cloud, through social platforms like Facebook, Google Mail and YouTube.

What becomes of all that information when someone dies? Does it live on forever? How is it protected, or is it protected?

As more people have had to deal with the management of digital assets, more resources have been created. There are now companies that offer to help with this process. There are websites that allow you to upload all your information and set notifications to family members at future dates. They also handle the requirements from social platforms, so that digital assets are managed properly and legally.

Estate planning attorneys now include digital assets in their documents. However, you will also have to do some homework.

Just as you need to do an audit of your physical and financial assets to make sure your estate plan addresses their proper distribution, whether before or after death, individuals now need to create an inclusive list of their digital assets, including user names, passwords, answers to questions that are used to verify identities and what they want to happen to the digital asset after they have passed.

Some online services do have policies in place for providing access to accounts after the account owner has died. Facebook lets users designate a “Legacy Contact” who is legally allowed to enter an account to post, respond to friend requests and update the profile and cover photos. The Legacy Contact can be given the authority to download photos, posts and profile information or they can be given the permission to just delete the account. Google has an inactive “Account Manager” that lets users share parts of their account data or notify someone, if they have been inactive for a certain amount of time.

Critical point: Never put your user name, password or security question answers into your will, just as you would not put bank account numbers and financial access information into a will. If your will goes through probate, which is likely to be the case, it becomes a public document. You don’t want to hand the keys to your kingdom to the world at large. The information should be provided to your attorney and your heirs in a separate document.

An estate planning attorney can advise you on creating an estate plan that fits your particular circumstances, including your digital assets.

Reference: Press-Republican (Sep. 23, 2018) “The great digital beyond

For more information on asset preservation and estate planning, please visit my estate planning website.

Mr. Amoruso concentrates his practice on Elder Law, Comprehensive Estate Planning, Asset Preservation, Estate Administration and Guardianship.