What happens to email, usernames, passwords, banking information, social media and blogs when an individual dies? It’s a question most people haven’t considered, but should. Without proper planning and documentation, online information may become inaccessible and may eventually cease to exist.
Today, almost everyone has some type of online account, whether to pay monthly bills or for the convenience of storing cherished family photos and videos. Individuals are careful to make sure the passwords to these aspects of their life are protected and the access to these accounts is limited. This is good in most instances, but accounts with private and protected passwords can create major problems when the account holder dies and no one else has access to the passwords.
Many assume that it would be fairly easy for a family member or personal representative to gain access to online accounts after death, but this is usually not the case. Access depends on the service provider as to who owns the account when a person dies and how or if they want to release information. For instance, some internet service companies consider an account to be private property and will not hand over passwords or emails to the descendant’s family without legal action. Other companies may require a copy of both a death certificate and estate planning documents to provide access to an account.
To prepare for this, it is important financial advisors take the following steps to help individuals prevent obstacles and frustration for loved ones when trying to access online accounts and information.
Grant Access Within Estate Planning Documents
As an advisor, the next time you meet with your client to review their estate planning documents, discuss their intentions for any digital assets they may have. If it’s their desire to share the information with others, determine if it’s appropriate to update the language in their planning documents to give lawful consent for service providers to disclose the contents of their online accounts to the appropriate people.