What happens to your Online Accounts when you die: Digital Assets Management

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Arun Kumar is a Microsoft MVP alumnus, obsessed with technology, especially the Internet. He deals with the multimedia content needs of training and corporate houses. Follow him on Twitter @PowercutIN

6 Comments

  1. Anand

    Another alternative could be that sites themselves give the option to users, when they are alive, to decide what to be done with their data after they die. This might not be hugely popular with their users but it will definitely help in creating awareness about this particular issue, and will lead to an informed debate among the masses and the policymakers.

  2. Never leave what happens to the websites. This doesn’t need to be complicated; and do *NOT* necessarily do what the websites want you to do. Many of them insist on “memorializing” the account, and freezing it, when you may actually want someone to make postings on it after your death. It is *NOT* up to the website if you do things correctly.

    Simply create the following documents:

    1) Durable Power of Attorney

    2) Last Will and Testament

    One need not make separate ones just for online stuff. One of each will work.

    The power of attorney names an attorney-in-fact who may act exactly the same as if s/he were you (the principal), while you’re alive, even if you’re incapacitated or even if you’re comatose (that’s what the “durable” part accomplishes); and in states like California, the power of attorney will even allow your attorney-in-fact to handle certain things after your death (normally, powers of attorney only operate while the principal is alive). However, since said certain things are mostly limited to things like giving direction for the handling of your body after death, it’s better to specify what you want to happen after your death in your Last Will and Testament, which names an executor of your estate who will then have complete power and control over ensuring that precisely what you have willed is carried out.

    This whole business of the websites specifying how they will receive the information, and what hoops you must jump through is not pursuant to law. Probate law (which covers both powers of attorney and wills) sets for the proecedures for attorneys-in-fact and/or executors to contact relevant parties; and all parties *MUST* follow the law, regardless of their silly policies and procedures.

    Every corporation has a registered agent who is the lawful party at the corporation who, if notified of something, *MUST* timely notify the proper parties (usually the corporation’s lawyer, if the registered agent is not, himself/herself the corporation’s lawyer) in said corporation. Once that notification is properly made, then that’s it: the corporation doesn’t get to dictate how it must be contacted and/or directed.

    An attorney-in-fact simply attaches a copy of the power-of-attorney to his/her communications; and the executor of an estate simply attaches both a copy of the will along with a copy of the death certificate, and that’s it. In either case, there would, of course, be a cover letter directing the website to the specific part of the either power-of-attorney or will that is relevant to the website account; and said part of the either power-of-attorney or will should simply state that full control of the account should be turned-over to the either attorney-in-fact or executor, as appropriate, without question or delay.

    If there is question which leads to delay, or delay for any other reason, or hesitation, or refusal, the attorney-in-fact and/or executor may petition a Court of relevant jurisdiction to put an emergency hearing on the docket during which s/he may move for sanctions; and during which the likely angry judge will explain the law to the website and order it to comply or both pay stiff fines and go to jail, on the spot, for contempt of court.

    It’s really as simple as that. Even if the attorney-in-fact or executor happens not to have the login and password, the website must provide it. Period. No arguments. No special rules. No hoops through which to jump. This could not be more simple.

    Then you simply give your attorney-in-fact and/or executor a letter of direction which specifies precisely what you want done with your accounts, and how, and by when.

    Mine simply directs those representatives of either me or my estate to indicate, in a certain way, that I am either incapacitated or dead; and to provide certain information about it; and who to contact about me or my estate; and that’s it. Then it just sits there like that forever.

    There are even instructions for how to set-up an auto-responder in my email accounts so that anyone who sends me an email will get an auto-reply explaining things, and linking to a web page that gives all the details.

    If the website in question must be logged-into every so-many days in order for it to stay alive, then my instructions are that someone needs to do so; and for how long depends on which type of account.

    All of this is in the hands of my attorney, my designated executor, and my attorney-in-fact (as well as their respective back-ups should they happen to pass, too).

    It’s all part of the sort of planning that everyone — even young people — should do… with the help of an attorney-at-law, of course. Only if you’re as expert in this sort of thig as am I should you dare try to do it without the help of an attorney, and even then, I don’t recommend it. I’m *VERY* knowledgeable about all of this, and can do all my own legal writing; yet even *I* run anything I do past my lawyer even if only for a quick look-over before finalizing and executing it.

    Hope that helps!

    __________________________________
    Gregg L. DesElms
    Napa, California USA
    gregg at greggdeselms dot com

    Veritas nihil veretur nisi abscondi.
    Veritas nimium altercando amittitur.

  3. Lef

    Thank you very much, very interesting opinion.

  4. Lucas Sawyer

    All estate planners and law firms should provide a service for clients to easily manage their digital information from anywhere, and be able to safely share it with loved ones. Software from OnlineSafe (www.OnlineSafe.co) makes this very easy.

  5. Syed from Birmingham UK

    Is it OK and legal to leave the password of each digital account and app with the nominated representative with clear instructions for each account AND then after the passing of the account holder; the nominated representative access each of the account and carries out the wishes as specified in the Digital Will – either to close the account or take the required action as per the Digital Will.

    This removes the interference from Digital / Internet companies as they are not aware that the account holder is now deceased.

    After the specific instructions in the Digital Will are carried out then the individual internet companies can be informed that the account holder is now deceased. Is this process/route legal? It is more simple and straightforward for the next of kin.

  6. Arun Kumar

    I do not see anything illegal there. It is the will of deceased being carried out. If the deceased wills, there is no need to inform sites about his or her death.

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