Digital Planning

Pen & paper
Most folks have given at least some thought to what happens to their physical assets when they pass and yet Gallup reports that only 46% of adults in the United States have created an estate plan. That number drops to 20% for folks under the age of 30. An even smaller percentage have given thought to what will happen to their digital assets when they die.

Have you thought about what will become of your digital assets when you die; or considered what will happen to your Facebook account when you are gone? What about your music, movies, and photos? Tik-Tok? Instagram? Will your email remain active or will you have it shut down?

A variety of service providers have been attempting to nudge folks to make provisions for their digital legacy upon their death. Apple, with the recent release of iOS 15.2 for the iPhone, added the ability to select a trusted individual to serve as a Legacy Contact.

Apple’s Legacy Contact designation allows for an individual to designated another person to gain access to certain information stored in iCloud once the principal has passed away. Interestingly, passwords are not included in the information the Legacy Contact is able to access. So, if you would like your Legacy Contact to be able to access your accounts and passwords, you will have to make other provisions. Additionally, the Legacy Contact is specifically excluded from accessing, transferring, or otherwise manipulating licensed media such as movies, music, and applications.

Facebook gives you a couple of options in case you pass away. The platform allows you to either choose to have your account permanently deleted upon your death or to elect a “friend” to serve as your Legacy Contact who will manage your profile after you are gone. You Legacy Contact will have the ability to memorialize your page and manage messages and posts.

Some platforms do not have policies regarding a user’s death or provide a way to nominate a legacy contact. Once such platform is TikTok. Currently, there is no procedure to inform your followers of your death, memorialize your account, or for the next of kin to request the permanent deletion of the account. Furthermore, after a period of inactivity, your account username will revert to a random series of numbers creating the potential for fraud and for someone to impersonate you. This is special concern for folks who have been able to monetize their account.

As far as email is concerned, different services handle death differently. Google, for instance, allows a user to select up to ten contacts who will be notified when the user becomes inactive. When selecting these contacts, you will be able to select what data will be shared with them. This includes photos, emails, and other data. If your account is inactive for a period of time (the default is 90 days), your contacts will be notified and, if no one logs into the account, the account will be deleted. Microsoft, and their Outlook platform, has no such system. Without the account username and password, or legal documentation, no one will have access to the account. After a two year period of inactivity, Microsoft will permanently delete the account.

Streaming services all essentially handle death the same. If you have the username and password to the account, be it Netflix or Hulu, you can login and cancel the service. If you do not, you will have to contact support and provide them with a death certificate and evidence you have the power to act on behalf of the estate. Without this, the account will remain open.

With our ever-expanding digital footprint, planning for your digital assets is a vital part of your overall estate plan. It is important that your documents specifically provide from the management of digital assets. At a minimum, you General Durable Power of Attorney, Will, and Trust should make specific reference to digital assets and provide for the ability to manage those assets. If you are unsure whether your current estate plan accounts for your digital assets, contact your JGB attorney. We are here to help.
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