Each year, more and more of our lives move online. From photos posted on a social-networking site to bank statements stored in your email, many of our assets that used to be detailed by a paper trail are now completely digitized.
If something happens to you, your loved ones or the executor of your estate may have no simple way to locate your pictures, or figure out where you bank, without access to your online accounts. However, many online service providers will not release your password to anyone but you, even if you are no longer living or are incapacitated.
Unless you have shared your email accounts and passwords with your executor or family, your social networking profiles, blogs, and other digital media may be lost forever upon your death or disability. For some people, this may be exactly what they want. However, if you spend a significant amount of time online, your online accounts may contain material that has financial or sentimental value to your loved ones. If this holds true for you, consider creating a set of instructions on how you would like your online life handled. Consider listing: all of your computer, tablet, and smartphone devices and their connected service providers; all e-mail addresses, including how the address is used (e.g., for personal or professional use, or to receive spam and other unwanted messages) and the password; and the usernames and passwords to each of your social networking profiles and instructions as to what should happen to the profile upon your death (e.g., Should it be deleted? If not, who should be responsible for continuing the profile?). You should also list all of your blogs, domain names, and webpages and the host for each; each bank and brokerage account for which you have online access along with the username and password for each account; where you store digital photos; and, finally, if there is any sensitive information in these online accounts that should be kept secret from certain family or friends.
A few words of caution, before you create a list of all your online accounts and passwords–check the privacy policies, terms, and conditions of each of your online service providers. Some web sites prohibit anyone but you from using your account; your executor or agent should be mindful not to violate these policies. You’ll also want to take great care to keep this list in a safe place; if the list falls into the wrong hands, your bank accounts could be wiped out and your online identity could be tarnished, or worse.
Since so much of our lives these days exist in a digital environment, it is more important than ever to make sure you include this part of your life in your discussions with your attorney when developing your estate plan. Your attorney can help to make sure that your executor has the necessary authority to access your various financial accounts and pass along the information you wanted your executor to have upon your death.