Just about everyone has wondered what happens after we die and whether there is some form of life after death. But no matter what you believe about the fate of your soul, there's an excellent chance that part of you will live on: your digital presence.
Your email, social media profiles and other online accounts don't just disappear after you die. Like your physical possessions, they should always be taken into consideration as part of an estate plan. While some of them may hold no monetary value -- your online photos or Twitter account, for example -- you may need someone to access your online bank account or bequeath your iTunes to a friend or relative. There's also the matter of privacy. If you don't want your Facebook profile and other accounts that clearly identify you to go on indefinitely, you need to ensure they die when you do.
Unfortunately, state and federal laws haven't kept pace with the needs of online-estate planners. The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and the Stored Communications Act, which make accessing digital accounts without authorization a criminal offense, were passed 30 years ago, long before the advent of social media. And only nine states have laws allowing a fiduciary or other representative to access social media accounts. Florida is not among them.
Online applications and the companies that own them have varying terms of service dictating who can access your accounts -- and what can be done with them. These policies can differ radically, making a fiduciary's job much more complicated.
There are steps you can take now to make things easier. While you're still around, take the time to find out what these policies are and how to authorize a representative to take action on your behalf.
You should also consider designating someone you trust who can handle closing these accounts -- or maintaining them, if appropriate. (You may like the idea of having your Facebook page act as a memorial site where people can share photos or memories, for example.) Bear in mind that the administrator of your online accounts might not be the fiduciary or executor of your will. The person you choose should be someone you trust, and is digitally savvy enough to manage all of your online affairs.
Finally, tell your estate planning attorney about your wishes for your online legacy. Depending on the growth of your digital assets, recording these intentions could prove to be just as important as your will.