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Your Digital Estate Plan

Clarkston Legal May 21, 2012

Do you ever wonder what becomes of a deceased person’s Facebook profile?

Increasingly, folks are compiling several digital profiles on the ever-popular social media sites now embedded into the Internet. Many of us have thoroughly fleshed-out these electronic profiles.

Well, what happens to your digital persona when you die? How do we assist our family members with the dismantling of these often extensive robust electronic profiles?

Below are examples of typical digital “assets” contained in an average modern person’s legacy:

  • Social media profiles such as Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and a host of others

  • Professional profiles [I maintain at least a half dozen and counting]

  • Bank accounts, loan accounts, mortgage accounts

  • Investment accounts such as eTrade or Ameritrade

  • Uploaded photos

  • Uploaded articles

  • Education accounts, including alumni account profiles

  • Gaming sites

  • Email profiles and communications [Most people have at least two email accounts these days.]

  • Digital media accounts

  • Cloud computing profiles or accounts

  • On-line store accounts, particularly those with a social media angle such as iTunes and Amazon

There are other examples, to be sure. Any site that you’ve had to log-on to, create a profile, and post content, or place orders, is a component of your digital inventory. That’s a lot to keep track of…

If your situation is typical, you have some similar passwords, or a theme running through your accounts, but due to the specifications of the particular site, most of your usernames and passwords are different. Also, you probably maintain a list of your names and passwords somewhere; probably on your computer.

There are, of course, some web-based products and services that assist with the management of your digital profile:

The first step in managing your digital legacy is to list all of your on-line “assets” and list the usernames and passwords associated with those accounts. You will be saving a family member or friend untold hours on the phone, or on the computer, when they try to figure it out in your absence.

Once you have compiled your all-important digital inventory, the next step is to reference this list and attach it to a power of attorney document. This will allow your attorney-in-fact to manage your accounts in the event of your temporary absence or incapacity.

Ditto to your will; include an instructional paragraph referencing and attaching your digital inventory.

If no instructions are provided, Michigan does not yet have laws governing the posthumous management of a person’s on-line “assets”. So far, only Oklahoma and Idaho have such laws, with Nebraska not far behind. [Where is California in all this?]

Therefore, if you die “digitally intestate”, what happens to your digital profile is up to the particular service provider. For example, Facebook has long taken the position, based on its robust operating agreement that you agreed to when creating your account, that FB owns all of your posts and content. When you die on Facebook’s watch, they memorialize your account; restricting views and posts to friends and family. Also, the account is closed if requested by your next-of-kin.

Some folks, however, do not have any next-of-kin. What then?

Here are some options for the proactive among our readers. Some posthumous services will send an email composed by you, or by your designated personal representative, to a designated list of contacts. Here is a sample list of such services:

Call it another characteristic of our modern life; once we are gone, our digital profile lives on for a time. In this fast-paced era, it’s amazing how fast such a profile will become outdated.

Taking the right steps will allow you to manage that profile from the grave…