Each time you sign up for an online service, send an email or post a status update to Facebook, your digital footprint is left on the web. Because most of us use the Internet on a daily basis, there’s literally thousands of pages and portals that house our personal information.
While it may not seem like a big deal now since you can always delete your email inbox or deactivate social media accounts if you fall ill later, consider what would happen to your online profiles if you unexpectedly passed away.
Most inheritance laws don’t include clauses that give your next of kin access to your digital assets– instead forcing them to go through third-party entities to retrieve this information. Yet, there are some steps you can take now to ensure that these type of intellectual properties are properly managed following your death.
What Constitutes a Digital Asset?
In its simplest form, a digital asset is any form of property that isn’t a tangible object. Whereas you may own a home, car or other personal belongings, digital assets are your things that exist only online.
For most people, this includes emails and account login information, access to subscription services – like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime – downloaded music and videos, personal photos, and created content shared via social media.
However, this list is sure to expand since more and more assets are becoming digitized, such as archives and scanned documents.
What Happens to Your Accounts When You Die?
If you don’t have a plan in place for your email and/or social media accounts after you die, they could inevitably exist on the web for an infinite amount of time – simply because most laws aren’t written to handle this type of asset transfer or deletion.
As a result, it’s important to determine what you want to happen to your accounts before death and put the request in writing. This could mean either keeping the account active after you’re gone by transferring login privileges to another individual, or deleting it entirely.
While most individuals opt to turn their profiles into public memorials – similar to the approach taken by Facebook where others can post on your wall after you pass away – there are instances when a login will need to be transferred, most notably if it corresponds to a business’ official account.
Moreover, most email services will give family members permission to view your sent and received messages if they provide a legitimate death certificate and proper identification. To do this, however, they will need to make a formal request by contacting the email server host.
Managing Digital Assets before Death
Although the best method to ensure the smoothest transfer of your digital assets is by including their fate in your will and testament or trust fund document, there are easier ways around this that don’t require a lawyer.
Or, to simplify, create a plan that divvies up your digital assets and import all relevant information, such as passwords and login credentials, into a spreadsheet.
This way all the information can be easily located and your family can either permanently delete – or continue to use – your online accounts, depending on your final wishes.
For more tips to help you prepare your final arrangements, or to speak with one of our licensed funeral directors, call Beinhauer Family Funeral Homes & Cremation Service at 724-941-3211.