NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - So
much of our lives are now online, from social media accounts to financial
accounts to entertainment libraries.
But have you ever thought about what happens to all of that after you die?
Your digital afterlife is becoming a bigger part of estate planning, for good
Kenneth White may be the exception to the rule in an overactive Internet
don't trust online, so I do very little online," White said. "Don't shop online, don't pay
According to the Pew Research Institute, 61 percent of Internet users in the U.S. bank
online, 72 percent use social media, and 80 percent have shopped online.
Those accounts are now considered digital assets. Attorney
Kindall James said digital assets include email accounts, social media and online
banking accounts. Also, photo sharing accounts, entertainment accounts
for music or movies - even e-books you've purchased.
of it can leave your loved ones' heads spinning at the worst possible time. Estate planners say it's an issue they're faced with more and more.
For years, many people have drawn up a last will and testament to
spell out who gets what when they die - tangible assets like the house, the
cars, the jewelry.
But now, digital assets add another layer of complication.
James says don't assume you can just "hand down" what you consider to
be yours online.
"A lot of them say your rights to the account cease upon death and the
account's not transferrable," James said.
Simpson is a licensed funeral director who has dealt with the confusion firsthand.
"A good friend of mine from high school passed away two years ago from an
accident, and he still has an active Facebook account to this day because his
family doesn't know his password and can't shut it off," said Simpson.
"So people are still tagging him on posts, which is kind of awkward and
Most people admit it's something they've never even thought about.
Turns out, user privacy rules, even in your digital afterlife.
"So, for example, Facebook says you and only you, not your successor, not your
power of attorney, only you can access your Facebook account," said
estate planning attorney Karin Prangley.
As is usually the case, technology has developed faster than the law. Right
now, only a handful of states, not including Louisiana, have passed legislation
addressing digital assets, which
is why the uniform law commission is working on laws that every state could
In the meantime, what happens to your iTunes or Kindle account, no matter how
basically says you don't own what's in your library, so it's not yours to pass
New Orleans estate planning attorney Peggy Adams says, "When you have Kindle e-books, you may only be leasing those books, your music, may only be
leasing. So what you think of as your library may not be yours."
Adams has this advice: "It
would be a really prudent thing to do to help your heirs if you make a list of
your assets so they know what you have. and now that includes passwords, bank
accounts that are mainly accessed online."
There are dozens of web-based services that can help you get your estate and
digital asset plans in order: Keeper, Legacy Locker and Life Document Storage, which
was founded by Bill Simpson.
allows a person to take all their information or documents they've gathered in
a lifetime and put it online in a safe and secure environment," said
Simpson. "We use the same encryption technology as banks and government
Web giant Google has taken note of all the attention digital assets are
new feature, the inactive account manager, makes it easy for users to inform
the company what they want done when they can no longer use their account.
and LinkedIn also have pages where people can go to get their loved one's
accounts shut down, as long as there's proof of the person's death.
says it's becoming a bigger deal.
"I don't think we're really feeling the impact yet," she said. "Most people who
die are older and may not have so much of a digital life, but I can see where
it's going to become exponentially more of a problem."
Estate planners say the worst thing you can do is nothing. Getting
your digital afterlife in order now will prevent it from haunting those you
Right now, there are more than 30 million Facebook accounts that belong to dead
people and it's estimated that by 2060, there could be more dead people on
Facebook than live ones.
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