Social Media and Estate Planning

6688776_sI heard a story on the news the other day I knew I needed to share as soon as possible – an account of Justin Ellsworth a deceased young man who lost his life while serving in Iraq. The piece involved his family having the most difficult time dealing with Yahoo in an effort to obtain his digital information, since they did not have any passwords.  The matter went before a probate judge, and Justin’s father finally received a ruling ordering Yahoo to hand over his e-mails.  Do I have your interest?  Many of us are on one or more of these networks for one reason or another, and when you signed on, you didn’t think – no one thinks of, “what happens if I should meet my demise?”  Certain areas here are still quite new, and unexplored territory.  If, in your field, actually anyone though, but if you’ve made a name for yourself the stakes jump higher.

No one enjoys discussing wills, powers of attorney, living wills, what have you – although we all want our families prepared.  But, reality says it’s all a part of life.  The social network side of living has now joined on and thrown a giant wrench in the mix.  I remember a discussion on one of my writing loops some time last year about passwords, where to keep them, who gets to take a look at them, and things of that nature.  I’m recalling one specific person stating they kept them as a word document, and transferred the whole lot to a flash drive, which they had with them at all times.  Since no one has access to my computer but my husband and myself, I don’t worry about anyone getting to my word program.  But, even with that, just the other day my left brained husband asked me to write down how to get to that document, since he is not familiar with text programs.

There are only five states that have any laws at all in place relating to digital assets. Those are: Connecticut, Idaho, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Rhode Island.  There are several states that wish to make laws transferring digital assets, but have not done so as of yet.  The material you have on all these sites are not transferable, when you die, the program dies.  Right now, there are approximately 5 million people on Facebook who have died.  But, in many of these instances, family members have set up memorials.  I located a site called “The Digital Beyond,” which provides a host of services, to include safe and secure methods of storing your digital online data.  Some sites will encrypt files for safe keeping and provides a method to have it taken off the Internet after your death.

Now, right up front, we’re talking about Facebook, Twitter, and websites, but you also have to include bank info, and any bill you pay online.  If these bill payers are not notified in proper fashion, they will pester your loved ones until, whenever.  There has also been talk of “post death humiliation.”  To insure all sensitive matter is removed from your system there are what’s called “Incinerator Programs,” and from what I understand there are programs available that will delete accounts upon notification.  Services are available for $10.00 – $20.00 or $200.00 – $250.00 per year.  Again, The Digital Beyond also lists companies that will set up accounts to send messages with passwords and financial stuff to loved ones upon your passing.  I know you’re asking, well how does that work: your loved one will have to provide certain documents verifying the decedent’s details.  In essence, please share all of these records with whomever you would choose to handle your estate.  But, first and foremost, decide what you want done with your digital material, then, seriously include all of it in your estate packet: wills and powers of attorney.

Photo courtesy of 123rf.com

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8 thoughts on “Social Media and Estate Planning

  1. This is an issue that will only become more prevalent in the coming years. The 65+ set is the fastest growing user group of social media. The best way to handle this would be to give a trusted person a password to access or delete accounts in the case of incapacity or death. This trusted person would be the same person you would give power of attorney to. Family members are usually at the mercy of user agreements that the companies put forth and users agree to most times without reading.

    • You are exactly right, and it’s a scary thought. It’s something I would have never thought of until I heard of that young man’s case. Also, thanks for stopping by, and for leaving a comment.!end

  2. An interesting discussion is definitely worth comment. I do believe that you need to publish more on this issue, it might not be a taboo subject but typically people do not talk about these subjects. To the next! Best wishes!!

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