Nowadays most of us do everything online: managing our banking, storing our photos, writing the next best-seller novel, and documenting the next great invention. Yet few of us have read the Terms of Service governing access to those Facebook, LinkedIn, Snapchat, Gmail, and other digital media sites. (Terms of Service are those pages of small print that you don’t read, quickly scroll through, and then agree to (“click here”), just so you can get to the substance of the digital site.) Access to that information by our families if we become disabled, sick, or die is most assuredly not guaranteed, unless they have the information that they need, (passwords, pin numbers, usernames, etc.) together with the legal documents in place that gives your named fiduciary the legal right to step in your shoes and act in your place, for your benefit.
For example, consider the family, whose mom bought an iPad to keep her busy during chemo treatments. She left the iPad to her children in her Will, but neglected to give them the access code. The device is now useless (“a shiny expensive placemat”), as her children fight with Apple and their hyper-vigilant security team. Or the father, who had to beg Facebook for access to the videos and photos left by his 21-year-old son who had passed away.
Now think about how difficult it would be for someone to pay your bills, transfer funds between your accounts, save your pictures, or publish your future best-seller novel if they couldn’t access your accounts and/or electronic devices, if you could not perform these tasks yourself. Fortunately, you can name someone as your fiduciary to access your so-called “digital assets.” How? It’s a two-step process. First, make sure your logins, passwords, security codes, and other access information are up-to-date and stored in a safe place. There are lots of alternatives for this, from low-tech (paper copy, stored someplace safe in your home) to high-tech (online password vaults and services which allow you to store endless passwords.)
Second, make arrangements in your estate planning documents to address your digital assets. A properly-drafted Durable Power of Attorney can authorize a trusted friend or family member to act as your “fiduciary” to access your digital passwords and media in the event you become disabled. A properly drafted Last Will and Testament or Trust agreement can empower your Personal Representative or Trustee to manage your digital footprint after your death. You should not wait until you have enough assets to get these documents in place; access to a simple iPad, cell phone, or a video with your memories (much less the best-selling novel) is a priceless gift to your family members if something should happen to you.