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How to Gain Access to Digital Accounts When a Loved One Dies

Posted by Gregory Poulos | Apr 14, 2015 | 0 Comments

Think about how many times per day you are asked for your login and password information on your computer or hand-held device — to your bank, your investments, social media, email and more. Now imagine that something happens to you and the responsibility for your online accounts suddenly devolves to your spouse or children. Do they know your logins and passwords? Now ask yourself if you need to include digital assets and digital asset protection into your trust?

Digital Asset Protection Trusts allow you to place digital rights and property information into a trust for the beneficiaries to use. Digital rights include email, text messages, online storage, websites, financial accounts, music/publishing rights, social networking accounts and much more. Like all trusts, the trustee can manage all the digital licenses on behalf of the beneficiaries.

Unclear Laws
Unfortunately, the laws on digital are unclear at best. Very few states have even begun to deal with this issue. While many online services have their own policies for how to deal with a user's death or incapacity, users may not approve of the procedure. Prudent planning now will help ensure your wishes are carried out regardless of the lack of clarity in the law.

Identity Theft
If you think it doesn't matter what happens to your accounts once you pass on, then you are wrong. Among other things, digital assets can be extremely useful for online identity theft. If you neglect to give your heirs access, then it is entirely possible a hacker could deplete an inheritance before your heirs can act. While there are procedures to protect a deceases identity, they all require having access to the online accounts.

Note: Facebook has just announced it will let users designate a legacy contact – a friend or family member who can continue to post after the user's death. Legacy users will have limited access, download archived photos and posts shared, but not access private messages. Or Facebook users can tell the company their want their accounts permanently deleted after they die.

Monetary and Emotional Value
While most online accounts don't have a monetary value, many have emotional value to the heirs. Some families may want to access accounts and download pictures saved in Facebook or Pintrest, for example. However, some accounts, like that of the famed author Leonard Bernstein . He died and created a password so strong, that the draft of his memoir, Blue Ink, remains inaccessible to this day.

Perform Your Own Digital Audit
You need to develop an inventory of your digital assets and that can be a bit of a challenge with as much as we do online these days. Please click on the link below if you would like to download a Digital Audit to help you think through all the digital assets you may want to pass on to your heirs.

Download Digital Audit

Adding Digital Assets to your Estate Plan
Because Digital Asset Protection Trusts are such a new field, you may require an attorney's assistance to help structure your digital assets into your will or trust. A separate document may be necessary, or the information can be woven into existing documents. At that time, you can indicate which documents or assets should be deleted versus the ones you want passed on to your heirs.

About the Author

Gregory Poulos

Meet Greg PoulosAn Experienced Estate Planning & Business Attorney serving the Phoenix AreaGregory Poulos counsels clients on the best strategies for accomplishing their estate planning and business goals. Greg starts by “Putting His Clients at Legal Ease” so that they understand the legal issues...


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