We are living through a time where tradition, law and technology are struggling to keep up with each other. It is impacting every area of our lives, and even deaths. Today, you may be just as likely to hear about the death of a friend or associate from social media as through an obituary. Courts are struggling through a series of sometimes mis-matched laws and regulations about just who owns the digital legacies of the deceased. What can you do to protect your own digital legacy and that of someone you care about upon death? Here are some thoughts to keep in mind.
Take Inventory of Your Digital Accounts and Assets
Most have little idea just how woven their lives are into the internet. There are online bank accounts, shopping accounts and streaming services. There are social media accounts, photo storage space in the cloud and apps. There may be accounts for travel, for loyalty points and even online newspaper accounts. Don’t forget username and passwords for active email accounts. It can be a bit daunting getting started listing all of your digital assets.
Leave Passwords in a Safe Place
Along with your insurance papers, social security information, military ID and other important papers, you should include a list of your online accounts and passwords. Access to this information should be limited only to someone extremely close to you and should be accessed only upon your death. This will make the smooth management of any of your online accounts much more straightforward and simple.
Notify Social Media
Most social media platforms have policies regarding user accounts of those who have passed. They even make accommodations for them. You may want to solicit tribute stories prior to locking these accounts or create a tribute page. Social media has become such a mainstream part of our lives. It is now becoming a part of the fabric of our afterlives.
Know What the Law Says
The Federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) governs what service providers can disclose under certain circumstances, however, it doesn’t determine what accounts and information can be accessed after death. The individual accessing information must be an “agent” of the deceased. If you are managing the digital accounts of the deceased, you will want to take care in protecting their information and securing any desired files, images and information before closing any accounts.
A few final reminders about digital legacies. You should never leave any password information in a will or legal document, where they may be publicly access. Make sure whoever is designated to take care of your issues upon your death knows you have left your usernames and passwords in a safe place with your other important papers. Finally, don’t wait. We accumulate digital assets almost daily and it can be quite the project getting started.