[RIP] Digital Estate Planning

Category: Reference

It’s been more than three years since I last wrote about digital estate planning. At that time, “What will happen to your online accounts, photos, emails, and other digital assets when you die?” was a much-overlooked question. Today, it’s become a part of mainstream estate planning, and it’s even expanded into end-of-life decisionmaking. Here's what you need to know...

You Can't Take It With You…

Sooner or later, we'll all kick the bucket, buy the farm, or shed the mortal coil. But when you go, what will happen to your online accounts? You may not be content to just leave your Gmail or Facebook account dormant. You may have photos or documents in cloud storage. What if you have money in your Paypal account? And will your surviving relatives have the keys to your online banking or investment portfolio?

The simplest solution is to write down all of your accounts and their login credentials, then give that list to someone you trust. Of course, you’ll have to remember to constantly update that document when you change passwords or create new accounts. But what if you don’t trust anyone with all of your digital keys, at least while you’re still alive?

Back in 2012, I found less than a handful of websites offering digital estate planning services. Now, there are dozens of new players; at least, they’re new to the Web - many are offered by established estate planning and legal firms. Much like Turbotax and other tax preparation software, digital estate planning sites walk you step-by-step through the complex process, holding your hand along the way.

Digital Estate Planning

Essentially, all of these services help you make decisions and document them; give you secure cloud storage in which to keep your documents; and provide a mechanism for empowering the people you designate to access the documents and other information they need to carry out your wishes.

Everplans was co-founded by Abby Schneiderman, who experienced firsthand the frustrations of wrestling with her deceased brother’s digital legacy when he died in a car accident in 2012. Everplans helps people document their wishes about everything from advanced medical care directives to who gets the pets and grandma’s apple pie recipe. Everplans can hold your family photos and your obituary. You can provide information that you want family and friends to learn after you die, and specify who gets what information. Everplans charges $75 per year that your account and repository are active.

Will Your Data Outlive You?

FinalRoadmap gives special emphasis to end-of-life care instructions. Its planning protocol gets into details that are often omitted from paper-based advanced care directives and wills, right down to what specific medical interventions you want or don’t want, and even who will be permitted in your presence while you’re dying. Yes, the questions are uncomfortable, but it’s better for you to answer them now than to leave family agonizing over what you would want them to do. FinalRoadMap charges a one-time fee of $249.

Similar services include The Digital Beyond, PlannedDeparture.com, AfterSteps.com and PrincipledHeart.com. Shop around for one that offers the services most important to you, and whose approach makes the most sense.

For do-it-yourselfers, Google offers a free digital estate planning service dubbed Inactive Account Manager. It’s intended to deal with your Google assets (email, Drive, Photos, Google+ page, etc.) but you can also leave instructions about anything else in an email that will be sent to your trusted contact(s) if you don’t log into your Google account for a specified period of time.

There's also Deadmans Switch which lets you send emails after you die. An email to your executor, for instance, might contain a list of accounts and passwords or a full-blown digital will and testament. The service sends a check-in email to you every so often; you confirm that you’re still alive by clicking on a reply link. If you don’t reply within 60 days, you are presumed to be dead and your stored emails are sent. The free version supports up to two recipients. For a one-time fee of $20, you get up to 100 recipients and the ability to customize the check-in intervals and reply deadline.

Final Wishes for Your Data

Generally, survivors are left to deal with the corporate policies of multiple online services when someone dies. There is no federal law empowering executors or designated representatives to access a decedent’s digital assets. Only 9 States have enacted such laws, and their provisions vary widely.

The Uniform Law Commission, which drafts model legislation that States generally adopt as-is for the sake of uniformity (e. g., the Uniform Commercial Code), approved the Uniform Fiduciary Act in 2014. One of its main provisions is that a fiduciary who has access to a tangible asset will have access to digital assets of a similar type. So if your executor is given control of your business, the online portions of that business and online records associated with the business would be available to the executor, too. But so far, only Delaware has adopted the UFA.

What do you want done with your email after you die? Many people want a relative to login and send a message to all contacts with their news of their passing. Should your Facebook page be closed or converted into a “memorial page”? How about your digital photos stored on Flickr? Do you have a blog or website that may need to be closed down? Any paid online services you need to cancel? These and many other questions are worth answering before you go.

Have you made a digital estate plan? If you use any of the above, or some other form of digital estate management, share your ideas here. Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "[RIP] Digital Estate Planning"

Posted by:

24 Feb 2016

YES can take with you as I am spend it all and run all the cards up to can not any more, have no one to leave it to, so spend it

Posted by:

24 Feb 2016

Another solution you didn't mention was "Emergency Access" recently added to LastPass. This allows another trusted person access to your account if certain conditions are met.

Posted by:

24 Feb 2016

For what it's worth, Lastpass now offers a service whereby you designate someone who can request your lastpass password in case you die. The way it works is, you provide the email address and a timeout period (1 day, 3 days, a week, whatever) and when you die, that person sends Lastpass an email telling them that you've died, and Lastpass gives them your passwords. The timeout period ensures that if you're not dead, you can cancel it before they get the passwords. I'm pretty sure Lastpass sends you an email to tell you that your designated party has requested your password, and you have the timeout period to tell them you're still alive.

Posted by:

Bob Price
24 Feb 2016

I did not realize how serious this issue has become until tending to my wife during her final days at a hospice. I got to know several family members who had a love one there, facing their final days.

It was heart breaking to hear the family members who had no idea about the banking information and finances of their dying relative.

I went home and took care of mine.

Posted by:

24 Feb 2016

Just noticed that this feature is not widely advertised on their website. Here is the URL for more info on it:


Posted by:

24 Feb 2016

My best friend of 40 years just passed away. He had asked if I was willing to be his executor 21 years ago. At the time I didn't think twice about it, we never said no to a request from each other in the entire 40 years we were friends. At the time he asked me to be executor, he sent me a copy of his will and an advanced health care directive. Since then his situation changed drastically. He was a single parent who raised his daughter alone since she was a baby. Now she's been married and has two daughters. He also moved from Hawaii to California to be close to his family, and bought a house. In the last couple of years he told me he had completely rewritten his will and told me about it in detail. Like a dummy I thought that since I didn't get a copy and he now lived close to his family that he had appointed a new executor. When he passed the whole family turned to me. They had asked him repeatedly about whether he had his final afairs in order. He always told them that Will knows everything and will take care of it when he died. I had no clue about anything except what he wanted. I spent over 200 hours cleaning his house, going over every scrap of paper, trying to find any information. I finally found a newer will but it was 16 years old and didn't match what he told me. It's a lot closer than the original but not what he said he wanted. Now I'm stuck enforcing a will that I know wasn't what he really wanted. The only good part was that he was clueless when it came to technology and he had me remotely connect to his computer to fix things. Because of that I have a list of almost all his oline accounts and passwords. It sure has been a rude awakening for me. There isn't anyone I have that even knows where all my assests are and I don't have a will. After spending all my savings, my vacation account, the money I have to live on, borrowing from friends and spending three months five hundred miles from home, just to get things started, I now realize how important it is to prepare for what we all come to in the end. There are so many ways that are better than a will that make it easy and save immensely on taxes and government intrusion that there isn't much excuse not to take advantage and set things in order. Now I have even more to think about and plan for. Thanks Bob for some great information!

Posted by:

Alan Kaplan
24 Feb 2016

Bob, I think I once sent my thanks but once again let me express my great appreciation for the many, many invaluable pieces of information you provide in your emails. A terrific, ongoing contribution to your online community.

Posted by:

24 Feb 2016

This is sooooo important. My son was killed in a car accident at 27. We had never discussed this situation because who expects to die at that age. It was a nightmare! I was able to access two of his online accounts and change the passwords easily. However, Yahoo and Hotmail would not allow me access, nor would PayPal. I had my attorney send them letters with the death certificate and order showing me as executor but it made no difference. This was six years ago. I have had to deal with phone calls from people who were on his email lists who didn't know what happened. He was there, then gone. This didn't happen right after his death, but over time for the next five years. It was horrible! I think once you are gone, if someone can provide the necessary documentation, the least the companies can do is give them the contacts list so you can let people know what has happened. I have an account where if I don't answer an email every three months, it will send an email to my executor so they don't have this same problem.

Posted by:

Fran Skene
24 Feb 2016

What about sites specific to British Columbia - in Canada? Anything? This is a great development so I'm hoping.

Posted by:

Mark Hughes
25 Feb 2016

There are account-specific solutions as well, such as Google's Inactive Account Manager which you can set up to handle who gets notified/what happens to your Google emails/data when you're pushing up daisies.

I've spent hours thinking about the fun I can have setting it up, knowing I can send emails to my kids years after I'm dead.

Posted by:

25 Feb 2016

Hey, you do not even need to die for this to be an issue. A friend recently was suddenly hospitalized, unconscious. She took care of all family finances. Husband didn't know how to access acct to pay daughter's monthly college housing. Or, for that matter, who wife's primary care Dr is. We all live in a safe and oblivious bubble til ....
Second thought-when 18 yr old daughter and we went for orientation at university, they made it totally clear we parents no longer had rights for info unless certain forms were signed. We went right back to family attorney and had HIPPA waivers, medical powers of attorney, and Living Wills created for our 2 young adult children and arranged for all the signatures to make it done. Without that, as the college made clear, you cannot help your adult? kids.

Posted by:

25 Feb 2016

This digital estate planning makes sense for those of us still alive. But what about those who have already passed away without such planning? My friend died last August (never needed a Facebook connection with me), just yesterday, Facebook suggested that we become 'friends'...he is dead. My wife passed away 10 years ago, and I still get mailings for her, even at my new address, that she never lived in. There needs to be a service to clean up the digital footprint of a person after they pass away, even if they did not plan it. Come on Google! I would think that Google can search for their digital foot print and maybe help us digitally bury our loved ones even if we do not have their passwords. Something must be done.

Posted by:

29 Feb 2016

Once again, thank you for this newsletter and information on digital estate planning. I have prepared records for my daughter but the legal information will be of benefit for her also. Delaware at least has something on record and we will go over it together.
Please don't retire from writing your newsletter. I will be lost.

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