1) What will happen to my online accounts such as email, social media and digital music services when I die?
ANSWER: The afterlife of your online accounts depends upon the law in your state, what type of online account is involved and the terms of service governing the online account. Some people would be surprised to learn that an Executor or Personal Representative does not automatically gain access to all of the deceased person’s online accounts unless the deceased person has provided specific consent. For example, if you die living in a state that has adopted the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (which most states have), then your legal representatives will have access to your online accounts if (i) you have activated a setting within the online account (an “online tool”) in which you provide a direction to disclose the contents of your account upon your death to your representatives, or (ii) your Will specifically allows your legal representative to access your online accounts. If you have not provided consent in either of these two ways, then your legal representatives will not receive access to your non-work email messages or similar electronic communications, but may get access to other types of online accounts if the terms of service governing the account allow it. If you die in a state that has not adopted the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act, then your Personal Representative or Executor may get access to your online accounts if the terms of service governing the account allow it.
2) A loved one recently passed away and I have all of her usernames and passwords for her online accounts. Can I simply log-on to her online accounts using this information?
ANSWER: Legally, you cannot log-on to her online accounts, whether you have the passwords and usernames or not, if the terms of service governing the account prohibit it. Some online accounts specify that only the original user may access the user’s online account, even when the original user is deceased.
3) How can I assure that my legal representatives have access to my online accounts and other digital property if I die or become disabled?
ANSWER: Make sure that your Will and financial power of attorney specifically allow your legal representatives to access your digital property, including your online accounts and electronic communications. If the online account provider allows you to activate an account setting to direct the provider to release your digital property to your legal representatives (often called an “online tool”), then you should also activate that setting.
4) I do not want anyone to have access to my social media accounts after I die or become disabled. How can I assure that my wishes are respected and that my representatives and family are unable to access these accounts?
ANSWER: Make sure that your Will and financial power of attorney specifically prohibit access to your social media accounts. Consider listing those accounts that you would like to remain inaccessible. If the social media provider allows you to activate an account setting to prohibit the release your social media accounts upon your death or disability, then you should also activate that setting.