From healthcare to grocery shopping, work to taxes, so much of our life is connected digitally. Many of us don’t realize the amount of online accounts we’ve accrued over the years. After the death of a loved one, these accounts need to be closed efficiently and securely. Here’s our guide to navigating this process, and how to best prepare for your own digital estate.
First, a look at the possible scope of your loved one’s digital property. Their online accounts may include:
- Social media
- Bank accounts
- Photo storage
- Streaming services
- Delivery services
- Lifestyle apps
There are other accounts to consider, as well. If your loved one was employed at the time of their passing, notifying their employer may be the first step in ensuring their work email and employee login is closed. But if they owned their own business or worked as a freelancer they may also have a host of online accounts you’ll need to close, like invoicing or work management tools.
You’ll also need access to their devices, particularly if they use two-factor authentication (2FA) for their online accounts. And remember that even if you have the username and password for an account, it doesn’t necessarily grant you the legal right to access it. For example, social media sites may require you or your legal representative to submit information such as birth and death certificates when requesting an account be memorialized or closed.
Digital asset management is not only an important part of the probate process, it’s essential for data privacy, too.
Closing Digital Accounts Is Critical for Data Security
A recent Google study found that inactive Google accounts were at least 10x less likely to have two-factor authentication set up than active accounts. From email to apps, inactive accounts are vulnerable to data breaches, as passwords are no longer updated and security checks cease. And identity theft can occur after an individual has passed away, with thieves attempting to open financial accounts in their name or use their name to obtain work or government benefits.
Another note on the Google study: the company has announced that as part of enhanced cybersecurity measures, personal Google accounts that have been inactive for at least two years will soon be deleted. The measure is in effect now, but Google’s deletion of accounts will not start until December 2023. In order to preserve your memories and protect your loved one, diligence with digital accounts is key.
Digital Estate Planning Is Essential
Planning in advance for the digital parts of your estate is just as essential as writing your will. Creating a comprehensive list of your online accounts and storing it securely can bring much peace of mind to your personal representative down the road. This may look like creating a file in your cloud storage with a list of accounts and passwords, or using a password manager.
As you organize your online accounts, remember to update your list accordingly whenever you update a password. You should also indicate in your will who has the authority to access your digital accounts. Some websites, like social media sites, allow you to set up a legacy contact to help manage your account after your passing.
However you choose to store information regarding your digital assets, do not list your accounts and passwords in your will. Once filed with the court, it will become a public record.
If you’re overwhelmed with the digital aspects of probate, we’re here to help. Contact us to learn how to securely manage your loved one’s digital estate and preserve their legacy.