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Who Gets Access to Your Digital Assets Account When You Die?

From engaging with people professionally and personally, to posting photos, storing files and accessing our bank account information, this all represents what’s known as our ‘digital legacy.’
Retirement Planning

With so much of our lives now lived online, it’s hard to remember how we lived in a world without email, internet, or mobile phones. However, the question of what happens to our online lives after we die becomes a challenge for loved ones, says a recent article, “One day you’ll leave this earth, but your data will live on in a messy future” from WFIN.COM. Few people 65 and older have a digital estate plan, meaning the next generation must clean up what’s left behind.

Let’s start by defining digital assets and digital legacy. Digital assets are anything in digital format, including photos, videos, emails, social media account content, websites and cryptocurrency. A digital legacy is all the digital assets left behind when someone passes.

A digital legacy may include personal, financial and creative digital property. For instance, if you’re a prolific blogger, you own intellectual property. What do you want to have happen to your blogs after you’ve died? Or, if you have a craft business on Etsy, who will manage it?

Digital assets don’t disappear when you become incapacitated or die. They live on unless someone has been designated as a digital executor and there is a plan to manage the assets. What happens also depends upon the platform’s privacy and legacy policies. In some cases, accounts and their contents are deleted after a certain period of inactivity.

What happens if no digital estate planning takes place?

  • Online financial assets, including bank accounts and cryptocurrency, have economic value your executor needs to be able to access and manage. If they can’t locate a username and password or are stymied by third-party verification like facial recognition, gaining access to your assets will take a long time.
  • If you’re among the millions who enjoy creating a family history with genealogy websites, years of work you may have wanted to pass to the next generation may become inaccessible or vanish.
  • Identity theft and fraud are common occurrences when digital assets are not managed or deleted after the original owner dies.
  • Some platforms allow users to name a legacy contact who can access their accounts, gather and download content and close accounts. You’ll need to review your social accounts to determine what each platform permits and set up legacy or memory accounts.

A digital executor doesn’t always need passwords and usernames to delete, memorialize, or close your accounts. However, they will still need an inventory of your accounts and a clear directive explaining what you want to happen to your assets after your passing. Password sharing, while common, is not legal. Most states have passed some version of the RUFADAA—Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act. Talk to your estate planning attorney about incorporating digital estate planning into your estate plan.

As a side note, if gathering your account information seems overly burdensome, imagine what would happen if your executor, already busy with so many tasks, needed to become a digital sleuth to determine what assets you have and how to access them.

Reference: WFIN.COM (May 11, 2024) “One day you’ll leave this earth, but your data will live on in a messy future”