Digital Estate Planning

Last year, Facebook announced a change in its policy for managing profiles after death. Earlier, the family of a deceased user could ask Facebook to “memorialize” the user’s profile. Now users can designate a “legacy contact” who will have access to the account after the user’s death. The legacy contact will be permitted to post a death notice on the profile, and more importantly, will be able to download the archive and all associated photos. Alternatively, one can request that the account be deleted upon death.

One odd detail, the legacy contact won’t be notified by Facebook of the status until after the user dies. Seems like the user should take the initiative and discuss the situation with the legacy contact first. Imagine that a friend has died unexpectedly, and then you get a Facebook notification that you are now responsible for his or her profile! Not a happy surprise.

Planning for digital assets is emerging as an important area in estate planning, for several reasons. One aspect is that digital assets, such as Facebook accounts, may have sentimental value for the family, and some assets might have monetary value. Another aspect is avoiding identity theft of the deceased person. Finally, with more and more commerce being transacted digitally, access to passwords and electronic accounts may prove very helpful in estate settlement.

For a more detailed discussion of the ins and outs of planning the digital estate, law professor Gerry Beyer has an excellent short article here.

One may be forgiven for assuming that planning for digital assets isn’t really important. However, having an estate plan is very important, even for someone with modest assets. If you haven’t had your will drafted yet, we suggest that you see your attorney soon. Even if you have a will, check it every few years to make certain it still matches your desires.

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