Digital and Social Media Accounts After Death & Legal Considerations
During the course of your life, you may have accumulated a substantial online presence. You may use several email accounts and social media sites, you may contribute to a blog, or you may sell items on Amazon or eBay, for example. Estate planning instruments do not allow you to transfer ownership in online accounts or other forms of digital presence to your heirs. You hold these accounts only by a license, based on your contract with the company that offers the accounts. Thus, the license expires when you pass away, and the company will retake control of the account. Online accounts still can feature in your end-of-life decisions, however, to the extent that you can make arrangements for what happens to the contents of the accounts.
If you are comfortable, you can always leave your login information in a will or other document accessible after your death so that an executor does not need to petition companies directly for access.
The company that runs your email account, whether this is a personal email or a work email, will delete your account eventually after your death. If you want to preserve certain emails or files attached to emails, you can provide instructions to archive or print these items before your account is deleted. You can also ask your executor to delete certain emails to protect your privacy if you would prefer that your family and friends never see them.
Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks have certain procedures that they follow when a member dies. Often, the account is deleted or deactivated, although Facebook will leave an account open for viewing and give people an opportunity to leave memorial messages. You can ask your executor to post a status update or message on your account about your death, or you can have them go through it to delete certain posts that you do not want others to see. If you would prefer to have an account deleted promptly, or not have it remain in “memorial status,” you can tell your executor to delete it.
Websites and Blogs
If you own a website, you can ask your executor to transfer the license to someone else, or they can keep paying for the license to keep the domain online and accessible. Alternatively, you can ask your executor to end the license so that your estate does not need to keep up with payments. If you contribute to a blog, your executor can post on the blog about your death so that your readers are aware. They can also take the blog offline or archive its posts. If you contribute to a forum or another site to which many people contribute, you can ask your executor to let the site administrators know about your death and share any final message with them.
Online Selling Accounts
Many people have opened accounts on websites such as Amazon or eBay to sell items to individual buyers. You can provide in your will that any items that are currently for sale when you die will be left to your heirs, and they should be able to receive profits from sales. Whether your account can be transferred to someone else will depend on the policy of the specific company. A family member can always make a new account to sell the items.
If you choose to give your executor access to photos, music, or other files online, you will want to give them instructions about how to reach and download the files. You can leave the contents of the files to your loved ones in your will. On the other hand, if you do not choose to provide access to online storage, the company that runs the account will disable it, and nobody will be able to access the files.
Online Access to Financial Accounts
While you should leave the contents of your financial accounts to your loved ones in your estate plan, you will need to give your executor access to the online accounts that control your finances. They will need log-ins, passwords, and other identifying information to keep up with payments on behalf of your estate. These accounts may include your mortgage, utilities, bank accounts, retirement accounts, and life insurance, among others. Even if you do not give your executor your log-in information, they may be able to get access to your accounts under state law. This process will be more challenging if you do not provide authorization and instructions, though.