(+) What Happens to your Online Accounts when You Die?

The following is a Plus Edition article written by and copyright by Dick Eastman. 

Genealogists are well aware of the disposition of wills, diaries, letters, and other personal items when a person dies. Indeed, the legal processes make sure that a person’s personal affairs are wrapped up properly. If a will exists, those same legal processes have always made sure the wishes of the deceased are considered and implemented as closely as possible. However, today’s new technologies add new challenges that are not yet covered by probate law and also not well documented for the family members of the deceased nor for the corporations that have possession of the deceased person’s digital assets.

Today, many people tend not to keep things on paper; instead, their most intimate thoughts are likely to be online – in emails, social media posts, and personal blogs. I count myself as one of those “online people,” and I suspect you may do the same. What happens to your Facebook pages, blog, online bank accounts, online stock brokerage accounts, or personal email correspondence after you pass away? How about your photos on Flickr, Snapfish, Shutterfly, Photobucket, or other photo sharing web sites?

Perhaps the most important questions are: “What happens to all these online accounts if you die abruptly? Will your information remain available to your heirs? Will your heirs be able to find this information, and will they know what to do with it?”

Another question concerns the opposite problem: deleting or updating your publicly visible information after your demise. You might not want to leave a Facebook page online forever that says, “Having a great time here in Cancun. I wish I could stay here forever!”

If a deceased person owned a safe deposit box at the bank, that box belongs to his estate, and whoever controls the estate gets to open the box. The same is true of the deceased person’s other assets: bank accounts, automobiles, and even personal possessions. Unfortunately, digital assets are not yet well defined in probate laws. Even so, there are steps you can take today to ensure that possession and control of your digital assets will be implemented in whatever method you wish.

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