What Happens to Your Digital Accounts In Case of Death

We have completed over 1,000 estate plans for clients over the years. Recently, however, we have unfortunately probated a disproportionate number of clients’ wills after death. Through estate planning, many of our clients have planned well for their families in case of death. However, very few clients have planned for access to information in their online accounts. Here is how to set up digital access for simple and secure information sharing with family members and trusted friends:

1.          Inventory Your Digital Accounts

The first thing is to compile a complete list of all of your digital accounts that someone else may need to access when you die (or become disabled), including instructions on how to access them. This list should include all of your online accounts including bank, investment, loan, insurance accounts, social media accounts, and email accounts.

2.          Share your account logins and other secure information with a password manager.

Input your complete list of online accounts into a password manager, which is a software that securely and conveniently stores all your account logins as well as notes you want to keep under virtual lock. Everyone should use a password manager. My favorites are 1Password or LastPass, which allow you to share the critical information your family will need to know after death. The individual plans offer basic sharing features, but for these purposes, a family plan is better because it provides accounts for your whole family.

3.          Site-Specific Solutions for Sharing Account Access

A few sites have mechanisms for ensuring someone, or multiple people of your choosing, can access your accounts in the event of your death. While it is not a widespread practice yet, two of the biggest sites on the internet, Google and Facebook, have a way to set up contingency plans for a user’s death.

Google Inactive Account Manager:  Google says Inactive Account Manager is a way to “Take control of what happens to your Google Account if you’re unexpectedly unable to use your Google Account, such as in the event of an accident or death.” You are able to decide which data gets saved and designate the people who can have access to it, or have your account deleted entirely.

Facebook Legacy Contacts: Facebook allows its users to designate what it calls a “legacy contact.” This is someone who can take certain actions on your account after you pass away and your account has been “memorialized.” According to Facebook, those actions include: Writing a post for the memorialized profile, responding to new friend requests (e.g., old friends or family members who were not yet on Facebook), updating the profile picture and cover photo.

Be sure to tell your family about these new account access tools and periodically update them. Settings may have changed, who you want to give access to might be different, or you might simply need to update something. It’s also a good opportunity to check with your other online accounts to see if they’ve created their own post-death arrangements. 

4.            Consider Including Online Account Instructions in Your Will

Finally, if you really want to formalize who gets control over your online accounts when you die, you can include those instructions as part of your will. You can even name a “digital executor” which is separate from the general executor of the will. This should be a person who you trust has access to your account names and login information. It is unclear if this approach works, but it cannot hurt. In light of the coronavirus, many clients are updating their estate plans.

In summary, since we never know when we will die, following the steps above is a useful plan to ensure loved ones will be able to handle our affairs for us. By taking a little time to get your digital affairs in order now, you can save them a lot of trouble when you are no longer around to assist online. Contact us if you need help.