Your Digital Legacy

by staff on July 18, 2014

Online AccountsDoink.  Palm slap to forehead.  It never occurred to me until I read an article this morning, that there’s a huge unchartered process that begins if someone dies but they’ve not specified what should become of their online identities and postings.

If it’s not spelled out in a person’s will, managing their online accounts after death can become a complicated matter.   We used to have actual file cabinets that trusted family or friends would manage after our demise.  Sometimes loved ones kept or cherished the files of letters and photos.  If the deceased person was famous or significant for their stored contributions (art, Pulitzer prize ideas, design, poetry etc.) the items could have great monetary value in the future.

But now our file cabinets are our emails, YouTube, Facebook and similar postings.  Do you really want your survivors to have access to your entire online history?  What if your family is desperate to preserve precious photos and memories from your online postings?  What if your survivors need access to your accounts to be able to settle your estate?  When should access end and how much access should be allowed for different types of online activities … like Zoosk or Pinterest?

Who should have control of those remaining accounts?  Can someone potentially tweet thoughts in your Twitter account as if they were you, long after you’ve died?  Could someone alter or delete previous postings to hide crimes or hinder investigations?   Is a deceased person’s estate governed by Virginia’s online/inheritance laws if they move to Illinois after the account agreement is established?   If a modern-day DaVinci explains Mona Lisa’s smile to a friend via email, could that explanation be lost forever with a click of a corporate mouse?  What is the monetary worth of access to a deceased politician’s most personal correspondence?   What if Elvis had online accounts?

Digital companies each have their own policies regarding the death of a subscriber.  Some end the account immediately, gone, boom, deleted forever.  In a new proposal to the Uniform Law Commission, the representative or executor of an estate could access your accounts but could not control your accounts.  As in, your surviving wife can read all of your emails but she can’t send emails from your account.

Think about it.  Are you living your life in a way that this won’t embarrass you if you get hit by a bus?   Feel a sudden need to consult legal advice?


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