Who keeps your Facebook, eBay information when you die?

Paula Duffy's picture

What happens to all your website passwords, email, Facebook, Twitter and Digg information, photos and other digital data after your death?

Courts and legislatures around the United States are being asked to address how to give survivors the right to close accounts and retrieve information about their loved ones, if there is no specific mention of it all in a will or living trust document.

The name "digital assets" is being used to describe the potential treasure trove of personal information left floating on the Internet. According to Law.com, Oklahoma is the first state to enact a footnote to estate planning legislation to deal with the topic.

It's says in part, "The executor or administrator of an estate shall have the power, where otherwise authorized, to take control of, conduct, continue, or terminate any accounts of a deceased person on any social networking website, any microblogging or short message service website or any email service websites."

The word "continue" seems to mean that the sites can be maintained post-death by the executor of a person's estate. The possibilities boggle the mind, but it is hoped by Oklahoma legislators that the site will be identified as a tribute or a memorial rather than one that doesn't make it plain that the owner is still alive and kicking.

While a great start to unraveling a person's digital assets, it doesn't go far enough. What about accounts on eBay, internet domain names reserved but not used, gaming sites and a myriad of other places the average wired individual has a presence.

To perform the duties outlined in the legislation survivors would need access to passwords and user IDs. Without specific mention in a will or living trust more legislation will be needed to allow sites to reveal the personal information that is so jealousy guarded right now.

There are websites that assist the search for personal ID information. Legacy Locker and Asset Lock act as "e-undertakers", according to LAW.com. That seems to be the first thing modern and wired individuals should consider as part of estate planning. If the purpose of planning is to make it easier for surviving family and friends to dispose of assets post-death, a person's digital assets must be added to the equation.

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