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Digital age adds to estate planning

The same technology that is said to simplify life is causing savvy estate planners to make adjustments to their estate planning to include their digital life. While the intangible aspect of that area of life may leave some people wondering what exactly would be bequeathed to survivors, further thought may bring about “Oh yeah …” realizations.


Some Internet users have accounts with businesses that store their credit card information, while others may also have such material as photographs, written work, videos, downloaded music or books online. One Chicago lawyer, confirming the value of online material, noted that digital assets have value, whether that value may be commercial or simply sentimental. So what happens to a person’s digital existence once that person ceases to, well, exist? Programs and services have been implemented by forward-thinking companies.

Google is one such company, having recently put in place their Inactive Account Manager program. The program allows users to manage what will happen to the contents of their information on Google once that usage stops. Users have the flexibility to opt for when their account is to be officially terminated and can appoint people to be notified once the account is deactivated.


Other services available for managing this part of an estate include online safe deposit boxes where account passwords and other data can be stored. A beneficiary can be appointed to access this information after the user’s demise.


For those looking for a more traditional, paper-and-ink approach, another option is simply to record online accounts and passwords on paper and have that information passed along to an executor or personal representative, preferably someone tech-savvy enough to follow through with the user’s wishes for disposal of digital information. Such a person can contact sites such as Paypal or social media sites, give proof of their authority and, depending upon the site’s policies and any copyrights involved, receive the account’s online contents.

Source: Source: The New York Times, “Bequeathing the Keys to Your Digital Afterlife,” Annie Eisenberg, May 25, 2013.