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A Better Partnership

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Jul 2017
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July 27, 2017

What Will Happen to Your Social Media Accounts if You Die?

This summer is the 10th anniversary of the first iPhone. I was in San Francisco on the day it was released, and I remember long lines of would-be buyers and a buzz of excitement about its touch-screen innovations. 

It didn’t take too long before I had an iPhone of my own. It was, as it likely was for many of you, the start of my shift into the digital age and my dependence on my phone for everything from banking to watching YouTube videos. My seven-year-old son, who has never known life without an iPhone, recently asked my wife, “Is a phone’s main use for calling people?”

This past Christmas, I did all my shopping from home using my phone while sitting on my couch. This spring I bought a smoke detector that’s connected to my phone, so whether I’m home, on vacation or at work, I’ll know if and when there’s trouble. With technology literally at our fingertips and in our back pockets, we have apps and websites for everything. 

We are logged in all the time and it is not slowing down. 

After death, what will happen to your digital life of pictures and music, emails, subscriptions, Facebook, LinkedIn and other social media accounts? Like planning for your house, cottage, retirement and investment accounts, you should plan for who will have access and what will happen to your digital life. 

A digital asset is personal information stored electronically on a computer or on an online "cloud" server account. Anyone who uses email, has a password-protected cell phone, makes online purchases or pays bills electronically has digital assets. If an account requires a two-factor authorization, be sure to include access codes for both the first and second factors. 

Planning for your digital assets can be daunting. You might feel inept at adapting to new technology, let alone taking the time to plan for its future. But here are three steps that will help: 

First, your will, trust and durable power of attorney should specifically address whether you want to give your agent, personal representative and trustee access to your digital life if you become disabled or die. You may limit access and allow only the closing of accounts, or you may provide full access so that information and accounts can be saved. Either way, if your current will, trust and durable power of attorney do not specifically provide access to your digital accounts, Michigan and federal laws may make it impossible for your agents to save the information in your accounts or close them down. 

Second, create a digital inventory. Make a physical list (not stored on your phone or computer) of your online accounts e.g., email, bank, social media, photosharing, cloud computing, etc.and their passwords. Creating such a list gives faster and easier access to your digital life and the information that may have value and meaning to people you love in a time of crisis or grief.  Such a list allows others to know what accounts to manage or close if you cannot and may help prevent identity theft when the account holder cannot monitor the account. For these reasons, creating, updating and keeping this list in a secure spot (or keeping the passwords and list of accounts in separate places) makes good sense.

One of the easiest ways to prevent cybertheft is to change passwords frequently, so keeping an up-to-date list is not an easy task. If you are like me, and your list of accounts and passwords turns into a jumble of Post-it Notes and chicken scratches, another option is to use password management software, which can store many passwords with one master password. LastPass, 1Password and Keepass are all options. But keep in mind that even password managers are vulnerable to attack—LastPass was hacked last year.

A third way to plan for the future of your online presence is to designate a representative on the relevant website who is allowed to access and close your social media and email accounts if something happens to you. Facebook, for example, allows you to designate a legacy contact. After a Facebook user dies, this person can update your photo, respond to messages and write a post that will remain at the top of your profile. You can also allow this person to download an archive of your public activity, including your posts and photos. Like Facebook, Google lets you chose others to manage your account if you die or the account is inactive. Google sends a message to the person or people you have designated after a period of account inactivity. Google gives them full access to your Google account data, including email, or access for the limited purpose of deleting and closing your account.

Like adopting new technologies, planning for your digital life will likely be a gradual process, but it’s easier if you break it down into manageable steps and take one step at a time. 

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