In 2014, more and more of our lives are being managed and portrayed online. Whether you’re posting status updates and pictures on Twitter and Facebook to let your friends and family know what you’re doing every single second of the day (because everyone wants to know that, obviously), or transferring and managing your bank account online, 2014 looks a lot different digitally than 2004 even.
It still astounds me how many individuals are in need of estate planning. Many individuals under the age of forty believe that wills are only for the elderly. But life happens, and before you know it, someone passes away without a will. Their loved ones are left in a state of disarray trying to identify and distribute assets. Estates must be opened, and often, a great deal of money is spent on attorneys’ fees to distribute an estate, when in reality, almost all of the confusion could have been avoided by a carefully crafted will.
Most people identify property in a will as being something tangible. People bequeath their vehicles, their homes, a specified amount of money, their jewelry, their guns, etc., but they often don’t think about their digital life. What about all those songs and movies you have purchased from iTunes? What about all of your online banking? What happens to your Facebook Account?
Society has had to deal with these realizations as the world moves more and more into a digital life. With all of these digital opportunities, we have also been told to protect our privacy. We shouldn’t use the same password for multiple applications or sites. But what happens when an individual passes away and some assets are available only online? How does the spouse gain access to those accounts or assets?
Each application, or site, whether it’s banking or social media, has a terms of service agreement, that we all just mechanically scroll down through and click the “I accept” button. You probably don’t know what you are accepting, but this is also where the application or site may explain what happens to your digital assets upon your death. For example, while your iTunes library may be expansive and rather impressive, you technically only “own” those songs or movies or ringtones during your lifetime, which means you can’t transfer your ownership of them upon your death. When social media first burst onto the scene in 2005 or so, the companies were ill prepared for what was to happen when a social media user passed away. At first, when Facebook was notified of a member who was deceased, their profile was taken down within a week. Now, back in 2009, Facebook added a feature that allows friends and family members to share memories of a deceased loved one on his or her Timeline.
If these digital assets are not referred to specifically in your estate planning documents, there is a relatively high chance that they can, and will, be mismanaged. A good tip would be to write down all of the websites that you use on a regular basis that require log-in information. Don’t write them in your will, because the will can become public information through probate. Then, identify the list in your will so it will be accessible upon your death.
As society is ever evolving in this digital age, we must be prepared to evolve with it. If you are in need in having your estate planning drafted or updated, contact Neighborhood Attorneys for your free consultation at 724-705-7082.