Leaving a digital legacy for your heirs

Posted on March 2, 2012

Occasionally, I run into good articles on estate planning-related topics that bear sharing.  Here’s one from the Dallas Morning News.

Leaving a digital legacy for your heirs

Loved ones need to know how to access your vital information online

By  Pamela Yip  of   THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS Sunday February 26, 2012 9:35 AM

Estate planning


Ensuring that your family can access your online information is part of digital estate planning. Make sure your family can find and access:

• Online bank, credit-card and investment accounts

• Important documents, such as your will

• Websites and blogs you use

• Online bills

• Email accounts

• Business documents


After a Facebook user dies, the company “memorializes” the account, meaning only confirmed friends can see the user’s profile.

The digital evolution has reached estate and financial planning. One of the most important aspects of estate planning has long been to tell your loved ones where to find copies of your will, power of attorney and financial contacts.

That’s still true. What has changed is where people store their important information and documents, and that increasingly is online.

If you have stored much of your personal information and documents online, make things easy for your loved ones. How to start:

List your cyber-assets

Create a record of your cyberassets, including:

• Domain names, websites and blogs.

• Photos, videos and documents stored on sharing sites such as Flickr, YouTube and Google Docs.

• Email accounts.

• Online bank, credit-card and investment accounts, and other such accounts that typically require a password.

• Accounts with online companies such as Facebook, Twitter and eBay.

• Documents, spreadsheets, photos and other such items that are stored on your computers, hard drives, DVDs, smartphones, flash drives and other offline or online servers or backup servers.

Know where you stand

It’s critical that you read and understand the terms of service of an online provider or service. “Many websites will not allow someone to access the content if the individual is no longer alive,” said attorney Peter Vogel, who teaches a course on electronic commerce law at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

For example, Google said it provides access to a deceased person’s Gmail account “in rare cases” and then only to an authorized representative.

“Any decision to provide the contents of a deceased user’s email will be made only after a careful review,” the company says in its terms of service.

At Facebook, the company “memorializes” an account after its user dies, meaning only confirmed friends can see the user’s profile.

“In order to protect the privacy of the deceased user, we cannot provide login information for the account to anyone,” Facebook said. “However, once an account has been memorialized, it is completely secure and cannot be accessed or altered by anyone.”

Facebook will process “certain special requests for verified immediate family members and executors, including requests to remove a loved one’s account.”

Make wishes known

“It’s the same old-fashioned advice I would give to any client about any asset,” said Ellen Dorn, an estate- planning lawyer in Dallas. “And that is, it’s important most of all to communicate to those in your life whom you trust, or to your attorney, what it is that you own, what it is that you value and how that information can be accessed upon your death.”

Name those you would like to receive each asset. “You can even include specific bequest language in the body of the will, much like estate planners routinely do for important items of personal property,” said Rick Salmeron, a certified financial planner in Dallas.

The bottom line is your digital legacy is too important to leave to chance, so think about how you want to pass that on to your loved ones and make the necessary preparations.

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