What is a Digital Executor?
Digital Executors are the people you name in your Will, or Living Trust, who will legally be able to access and manage your “digital property” after you pass, or if you become incapacitated.
Your Digital Executor will typically be the person who will be able to legally log into and manage ALL of your online accounts; websites, social media, banking — everything you do online that requires you to log into your account. S/he will also be able to close your online accounts and online subscription services. Your Digital Executors can be the same person as your Will Executor, which may be more convenient if you have a small estate and not many online accounts.
What about your website(s)? A website domain name (URL) registered to you is a true asset that is transferable, and your web content firmly belongs to you under copyright law. Your Digital Executor will be able to transfer your domain name.
To transfer your domain name to another registrant (you are the registrant), your Digital Executors can initiate a change by contacting your current registrar (the company you used to purchase your domain name).
On the other hand, online accounts with social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and YouTube are not physical assets in a property sense; all you have is a license to use the site. Every social media network has its own policies regarding what happens to your account upon your death.
Facebook will put the account into “memorial” status (their rules change so you may want to read their Terms of Service TOS). Some companies will just delete the account. Regardless of what their policies are, since they won’t know about the death until someone tells them, your Digital Executors will have a little time to make changes to your account, or post a final status update, or delete things that you’ve requested h/him to delete; including deleting the account.
Just as a note; having someone simply delete your social media sites can lead to a family feud. Some members of the family may insist that the account be put in memorial status, and some will want them deleted. To be sure what CAN be done with your social media sites, read the company’s TOS.
How Many Online Accounts do You Have?
By law you own all the photos and other content you’ve posted on your social sites, and those sites have a non-exclusive license to use it.
But if your Digital Executors and/or your heirs can’t access your accounts they can’t access your property. Your Digital Executors would have the ability to access your online accounts.
Over time, you may have accumulated more online accounts than you had a few years ago. Especially since Covid-19 when you were suddenly doing more online than you previously did; Banking, bill payments, medical appointments, health & fitness online subscriptions, and the list goes on.
How often have you had to reset your password because you couldn’t remember it? If you’ve been trying your best to be as secure as possible with your online accounts, you have NOT been using the same password for every site you log into.
It’s also advised not to use variations of the same password, or use common words found in a dictionary in your passwords.
Another important note regarding passwords: Your email password is quite possibly more sensitive than your online banking password. Reason being is something you may have experienced. Have you ever had to reset your password and were sent an email to verify your identity? A hacker who gains access to your email account may then be able to reset your passwords, including passwords to you financial accounts.
This is where you may want to consider using a password manager, if for no other reason than to make things easier for your Digital Executors.
The two most popular password managers are LastPass and 1Password. Which one is better depends on who you ask. As far as security goes, keep in mind that ANY company or software can be hacked, even if they claim to have NEVER been hacked. When it comes to having your website, or online account hacked, never say “never.”
1Password has been around since 2005. Personal plans start at $2.99 per month for one user or $4.99 per month for a family of five. Business plans start at $7.99 per month.
LastPass has been around since 2008. As of right now, they have promotional rates starting at $2.34 per month for personal use; business plans starting at $4.00 per user/month.
PCMag has reviews posted on their site for 1Password, and LastPass.
Why Should You Care What Happens to Your Facebook Page After You Die?
So why would you care what happens to your Facebook page, your blog, or your emails, after you die?
Whether you realize it or not, all of the content you post on your social media sites and/or blogs, and even your email, becomes a historical collection that reflects who you are, what you think, and what you’re going through during certain times in your life — all forever archived in cyberspace.
In a world of “Selfies” and videos of special events in our lives being posted online, we’re creating digital archives of precious memories that we want to be able to pass along to future generations — much in the same way you may have inherited the family bible, diaries or photo albums.
The downside to All Things Internet is that some of your digital assets are being archived and preserved whether you want them to be or not. In addition, much of your online content may be interactive; Comments on your posts, and your comments on others. You will want your Digital Executors to have access to all of your online accounts.
“In the past we had heirlooms that were physical objects, like photo albums, and these things could be found in your home after you passed away. However, in the digital world these things might be in a service like Flickr,” making them harder to discover and access. So, “planning for their afterlife” is a critical choice, says Evan Carroll, who together with co-author John Romano has penned “Your Digital Afterlife: When Facebook, Flickr and Twitter Are Your Estate, What’s Your Legacy?”
“Some of the things that are most valuable to people are [those] they put on the Web without thinking about it,” such as photos of children shot candidly with a cellphone, Romano adds. “If you do have an attachment to these things and think that your children or spouse would, then you should go ahead and actively work to preserve them. To not make a choice, and to not do anything, is making a choice to let whatever happens happen.”
Gone are the days when we only had physical assets to be divvied up, donated, or thrown away. Digital assets can be bequeathed complete — to more than just one person and to anyone with access to the internet. Future generations will be able to see us as we saw ourselves, and as others saw us. With that in mind, you may want to think more carefully of what you’re posting online so that your heirs don’t have to wade through tens of thousands of pictures of every meal you ate and cat/dog memes.
Probate laws vary by state, so be sure to consult with your Attorney.
Under the Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (UFADAA), Revised in 2015, but not enacted in all states. California enacted this law in 2017:
- An executor needs explicit consent to have authority over the content of electronic communications (email, social media sites, blogs).
- If a fiduciary does not have explicit permission through a will, trust, or power of attorney, custodians can look to the TOS agreements for each account to determine whether to comply with requests for access to a deceased person’s account.
Most states have enacted laws addressing access to email, social media accounts, blogs, and other website accounts upon a person’s death or incapacity.
Some have adopted either the Uniform Law Commission‘s (ULC) Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (UFADAA) (2014) or the revised version of UFADAA–the Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act, Revised (2015). The National Conference of State Legislatures has a list of states and which law has been enacted.
Probate laws vary by state, so be sure to consult with your Trust Attorney.
Read related article posted on techlicious.com: What Happens to Your Online Accounts When You Die?