Most of us, young and old, have moved to the digital age in one way or another. You have a smartphone, bank online, use email to communicate, text your grandchildren or children, or have an online presence like Facebook.
What happens with all of this digital data once you have departed this life? How will your digital life continue, or end? It is something you should now plan for in arranging your affairs.
If you have many accounts and services online, you need to prepare for someone to either assist you as you age and for someone to access your information when you die.
Keeping a record of your passwords and digital accounts can be of great assistance to your family and friends. There are a number of ways to do this: you can keep a paper record in a secure place and tell a trusted family member where it is; you can use your computer and password to protect the file, just remember the password, and share with a trusted family member; you can access one of the many online services that holds your passwords, and even designate a beneficiary. There are numerous articles and companies that can guide you to what works best for your needs and complies with state regulations.
Online banking presents its own set of issues. How many accounts do you have and where are the records for these accounts? If you have bills that are automatically paid, they will continue after your death. If no one has access, your account could be depleted of funds. If you receive electronic billing statements via email, you need to be sure someone can see what needs to be paid if there is no automatic payment. Do you receive statements on an IRA, stock trading account or Money Market account electronically? Often to gain access to an account of the deceased, you will need a death certificate and probate documents to gain access to the accounts if no one is listed on the account as a beneficiary or co-owner with the deceased.
Your cell phone may have been a primary means of communication in the last few years, with contact information, texts and emails. To end your association with your carrier, many companies require a letter and death certificate to cancel your cell phone. Be sure you leave the contact information for your cell phone so automatic debits or mounting bills don’t occur.
In addition to the financial portion of your digital life, there is also the social portion. Do you have a Facebook account or other social media accounts? What will happen to these accounts?
Facebook recently announced a new setting that will give every Facebook user the option to have their account permanently deleted when they die.
Alternatively, users can now designate a “legacy contact”—a friend or family member to take control of certain aspects of their account after death. Specifically, the legacy contact will be able to: change the deceased’s profile picture and cover photo; write a special post that will be pinned to the top of his or her timeline (e.g., a memorial service announcement); or accept friend requests from real-life friends and family who were not connected to the deceased on Facebook.
You can tell us in advance whether you would like to have your account memorialized or permanently deleted from Facebook.
Memorialized accounts are a place for friends and family to gather and share memories after you have passed away. Memorialized accounts have the following key features:
- The word Remembering will be shown next to your name on their profile
- Depending on the privacy settings of the account, friends can share memories on the memorialized Timeline
- Content you shared (ex: photos, posts) stays on Facebook and is visible to the audience it was shared with
- Memorialized profiles don’t appear in public spaces such as in suggestions for People You May Know, ads or birthday reminders
- No one can log into a memorialized account
- Memorialized accounts that do not have a legacy contact cannot be changed
- Groups with an administrator whose account was memorialized will be able to select a new administrator
- Pages with a sole administrator whose account was memorialized will be removed from Facebook if Facebook receives a valid request.
Planning your digital future is now part of your continued estate planning. Consult your elder law attorney for any assistance.