We live in a world where all of our information, documentation, social life, and mail is digital. So the question is, what happens to all of these digital assets when you pass away? What will happen to the tweets or Facebook posts that you were so keen about posting?
Almost all of our digital accounts and devices are protected by passwords or codes which sometimes make it impossible for others to access all of your important documents or information. This issue is relatively new in the legal field, but there are steps to take which will make it easier to access the digital accounts of a loved one.
1. Find Passwords
The easiest way to access a deceased’s account is to find passwords and usernames written down, however this is likely to not happen (because nothing is ever easy). Before attempting to access accounts, it will save time in the future to just have a quick check for any list of passwords on papers, or on the deceased’s computer (try searching the term “passwords”) or smartphone (check the notes app). Another place the passwords can be stored are on the users search browser (Chrome, Safari, Firefox, etc.) which are saved to the browser and will automatically input the password on sign-in screens. Here is an article explaining how to view the saved passwords on Chrome: Google Chrome Password Help
The most important account (or accounts) to access is the email. Email is where you will be able to find the most information regarding other accounts, who dealt with the individual, what was shared, and all other types of information that you could use to get started in your digital asset search.
Even if you were unable to find any passwords, the email isn’t difficult to access. Many individuals have it automatically signed in on some devise, whether it be their computer or smartphone. With access to the email, you can also obtain access to other accounts, such as Facebook, banks, or others, by resetting the password associated with the email.
If there isn’t automatic sign-on for email accounts, don’t fret because some email providers allow for the information to be accessed after an individual dies. Gmail, for example, allows someone to obtain data from the deceased’s account by providing the death certificate. But be cautious, because not all providers allow this feature, such as Yahoo which will only allow to deactivate the account. It is recommended that you don’t rush to deactivate the email account. The account will likely receive more emails which could be useful when dealing with the deceased’s estate, so keeping it active as long as possible and checking periodically for emails is the best course of action.
3. Social Media
Almost every person today has some sort of social media account that allow them to interact in public forums. Whether it is Facebook or twitter, the deceased will still appear to be active on the social media sites as long as they have an account and will appear in searches as if they were still living. Each site handles a deceased user’s accounts differently, generally not allowing access to the old account (you will need the passwords to do this on your own, or potentially changing the password with the email).
Twitter allows a representative for the user to deactivate the account, by showing a death certificate, but will not allow the representative to access the users account. Facebook also does not allow access to the account but will allow a user’s account to be memorialized by notice from a representative, replacing the deceased’s Facebook account. This will allow people to make posts about the deceased on the memorial page but also making it so the person does not appear in searches or birthday reminders.
In sum, technology is constantly changing and evolving, making it difficult for the law to keep up. Even today, a lot of important documents, information, and accounts are solely digital and access to these digital assets are essential to a person’s estate. Florida is attempting to keep up with the tech world, and has created an act known as the “Florida Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act” which allows fiduciaries to manage digital assets the same as tangible assets and allows custodians of the accounts (where the account is held) to interact with the fiduciaries while maintaining the deceased users privacy. A good step to take is to address your digital assets in your estate plan, and make your representative aware of their existence, thus allowing them to be recovered and protected.
Death is a difficult time, and dealing with a loved ones assets is not the most fun or exciting way to spend your time, but hopefully when it comes to digital assets this will make it just a little easier when you run into those password roadblocks or need to deactivate accounts.