As more and more people live their lives online, the question of what happens to online assets and records after someone dies is becoming more important – and confusing. Consider all the things that you might “own” on the Internet – thousands of photos and e-mails, Facebook and other social media accounts, music libraries, blogs, genealogy records, domain names, and much more.
Then consider how many financial accounts you have or manage online – including PayPal and other accounts with credit balances, as well as online accounts with detailed financial records, automatic bill-paying processes, etc.
If you haven’t given any thought to what will become of these things – and who will manage them after you’re gone – it’s probably a good time to do so. Increasingly, executors are being faced with very difficult questions about what to do with these online assets. How can they access them? To whom do they belong? What would the deceased loved one have wanted?
The whole issue is so new that there aren’t many easy answers. In fact, only a handful of states – including Connecticut, Idaho, Indiana, Oklahoma and Rhode Island – have any laws at all governing executors’ ability to handle online property.
So what should you do to make things easier for your heirs? A good start is to put together a list of everything online that has value, sentimental or otherwise. Then decide what you want to happen to it.
Write the list down, so that if you were to pass away, your executor would know what assets exist. You might want to include passwords, and keep the list with your will. Be sure to update it from time to time. (However, it’s never a good idea to put your passwords in the will itself – that’s because wills can become public records, giving the whole world access to your passwords.)
In our next installment, we will examine additional ways to ensure your online assets are managed correctly.