The Afterlife in CyberSpace

What happens to your Facebook chats, Flickr photos,LinkedIn connections, and Twitter witticisms when you die. Will your friends and family have access to your "digital memory"?

The short answer: "No".  in fact, getting friends and family access to your passwords, and thereby your social media identity, is most likely strictly forbidden in the privacy policies of the social media venues you frequent. While you're Personal Representative (executor, trustee, administrator) it may be able to access this information, it may also require a court order to do so.

So what can be done to safeguard your online persona? KATU out of Seattle reports today that "Digital death coverage is a growing business. There are websites that help you bequeath your accounts to others and inform your online friends that you're dead."

One such website has the the warm and fuzzy name of deathswitch.com.  Apparently the site will continuously since you an e-mail, and if you don't respond within a certain period of time, carry out your "final instructions". I didn't put a link in, because when I went to the site, it crashed my browser.  This highlights the problems with any kind of "online vault". Who's running it? What are they doing with the information you're putting in there? Are you putting your online passwords in one place, that could then be accessed by other parties for malicious purposes?

A better solution?  Treat your online persona with the same amount of care that you treat your online financial records.  In an earlier post, You Die - Your Passwords And User Names Die With You, this advice still holds true today.

The best way to address concerns raised by virtual assets in the electronic age from an estate planning and estate administration perspective is to employ some practical advice:

  • Create a spreadsheet of login and password information
  • Update the spreadsheet WHENEVER a change is made
  • Save the spreadsheet to a removable media format (CD, DVD-R, USB Flash-Drive, etc).
  • Store the removable media format in a safe location that your spouse, power of attorney, key adult child(ren) and attorney are aware of (safe deposit box, fireproof vault, drawer in the house where the important stuff is).
  • If you password protect the file, make sure that your spouse, power of attorney, key adult child(ren) and attorney are aware of the password
  • MOST IMPORTANT - Update the spreadsheet whenever a change is made

__________

Deirdre R. Wheatley-Liss is a shareholder of the Law Firm of Fein, Such, Kahn & Shepard, P.C., with offices in Parsippany and Toms River, New Jersey. She concentrates her practice in the areas of Elder Law, Estate Planning and Administration, Business Planning and Tax Law. Deirdre's individual clients range from their 20's to their 80's and beyond, while her business clients range from start-ups with exciting new ideas to 100+ year old business ventures. Clients seek Deirdre's advice and assistance with a variety of planning issues relating to identifying and meeting their personal, family and business goals, whether in a planning or crises situation.