What will happen to your online accounts if you pass away (part 2)?

In our first installment, we suggested putting together a list of everything online that has value, sentimental or otherwise. Then decide what you want to happen to it. Read on to learn additional steps to ensure your online assets are managed correctly.

Tell your executor what you want him or her to do regarding the assets. Do you want your social media accounts deleted, or preserved as a memorial? Do you want your old e-mails destroyed, or copied for someone? Who should get photos, songs, and other materials?

If your executor isn’t particularly tech-savvy, you might want to appoint a separate “digital executor” to handle your online assets.

Keep in mind that you might not have unlimited say over what happens. That’s because, while you may think you “own” material that’s online, your ability to control it is often limited by the “Terms of Service” agreement you clicked on when you first signed up with a service provider.

So while you might want to leave a library of thousands of songs on iTunes to someone, this might or might not be permitted by the iTunes service agreement.

If an account is important to you, you might want to contact the service provider and ask about its rules. For instance, Google now lets you choose what you want to happen to your e-mail if you pass away. But if you haven’t made a choice within Google itself, and you just write something in your will, it’s not clear that Google will abide by it. In some cases, it might be possible to put a license agreement with a service provider into a trust, so that the “account” can continue after your death.

Another issue is what happens if an executor uses a password to access a financial account after someone dies. The executor might have a legal right to access and use the account. But he or she might also be considered to have wrongfully accessed the account by using someone else’s password in order to impersonate them – even if the executor is doing something as innocent as paying ongoing bills.

It gets even more complicated if someone other than an executor – such as a family member – uses a deceased person’s password. In general, it’s better to contact the institution about the situation first, rather than simply logging in as someone else.