What will happen to all your personal emails after you’re gone? What about your Facebook page and your documents and photos stored in the cloud? Traditional wills include the future of your physical assets and bank funds, but one thing that may get overlooked are the many online and digital accounts you may have. Wouldn’t you like all your online accounts to be closed, terminated, or financially distributed to the right person and in the right way when you are no longer around?
Preparing your Digital Accounts. Although you can make legal documents online (LegalZoom, RocketLawyer, Global-Wills), speaking with an attorney may be the most comfortable way to start. If you have a good relationship with a lawyer or have known people who have used them for this very thing, having a real person around can be very helpful to answer some of your questions. One important thing to know is that if you do not have a will or your will does not name an Executor, then the probate court involved in settling your estate will name one. That might get messy since basically, state law will make the determinations. But if you have a Last Will and Testament in place, the appointed Executor can manage all your accounts will the proper legal means. They can handle all final affairs related to your estate (no matter how small). But it may be wise to add a special paragraph to your will for this “Digital Executor.” For instance:
“My Executor may manage, distribute, or terminate my digital assets. My digital assets shall mean electronic assets that are stored on my computers, any electronic devices, or on any online accounts, including, but not limited to, social networking sites, online backup services, servers, email accounts, photo and document sharing sites, financial and business accounts, domain names, virtual property, websites, and blogs. An instructional document with associated websites, usernames, passwords and related information, shall be found in my Letter of Instructions.”
Including something like this will directly put the person (or persons) who you trust in charge of these accounts. It will also bring those accounts to their attention and avoid them being forgotten into the digital abyss. For more information on protecting this, see IWKYS post: A growing crisis: Loved ones dying without sharing passwords.
Closing Accounts for the Deceased. Hopefully your loved ones were able to designate an Executor with access to their Important Papers or access to their passwords. If not, one good resource for finding information about closing online accounts is Deceased Account. It’s a free resource provided by LifeEnsured for families to help manage the on-line accounts of deceased relatives. It provides links, information, and various state laws on what is known about closing these accounts. While it may not be convenient to accomplish this shortly after the loved one has passed, it’s understandable and appropriate in regard to security measures. Some services like Gmail and Twitter have information readily available which generally includes:
- A death certificate copy. (Keep in mind that some services are time sensitive.)
- A driver’s license or some form of official identification.
- Information regarding your relationship with the deceased and your purpose.
These requirements are also similar for closing bank accounts (along with the Important Papers of the deceased and/or a safety deposit box key), but speaking directly with the bank should be able to answer most questions. Other services mentioned on Deceased Account may not be so clear. For instance, Facebook encourages you to memorialize the deceased instead of closing the account. This may or may not be appropriate. Closing Facebook accounts can be a challenge anyway since they only offer deletion by request.
While this post is certainly not an exhaustive resource for outlining the benefits of having all your Important Papers in order (Last Will and Testament, Advance Directives, Power or Attorney, DNR, etc.), it may help encourage you to organize your accounts and alleviate some of the hassle in closing them when we pass on.