Yesterday's post demonstrated that we are living in a time of uncertainty regarding what happens to a person's digital life after death.
Only a handful of states have laws on the books regarding digital assets becoming part of an individual's estate. Indiana is one of those states, specifically defining "electronically stored documents of deceased" persons. See Indiana Code 29-1-13-1.1. A couple of states have gone further and included email, social networking and blogging as part of the probate process.
And while the Uniform Law Commission is considering drafting a law that could be adopted by states such as Kentucky, individuals must take matter into their own hands and include their digital assets as part of their estate plans.
Similar to traditional estate panning, couples can establish joint online financial accounts (and other joint accounts for information that is not private to a single individual) to address access issues after an account holder's passing.
Digital estate planning can also be planned in conjunction with a traditional will or trust. Even the federal government recently posted a blog entry about the topic of social media wills. Because wills eventually become public documents, however, details such as account numbers and passwords should not be included within the four corners of the document itself. The use of a separate memorandum that is referenced in the will and accessible by only the executor or administrator is one solution.
Everyone needs to discuss their online presence with loved ones and clearly define what accounts or information should be maintained or deleted upon death. Similar to traditional estate planning, the goal is to make the process of administration as easy as possible for family members and friends that are left behind and are already dealing with a difficult loss. Not knowing what someone wanted to have happen to their online identity, or being barred from access to pertinent information, does not make the coping process easier.
Because so many people of all ages still have not addressed basic estate planning needs within their own lives regarding traditional assets, such as a house or vehicle, hopefully the need for an online estate plan will convince even younger people (who treasure their Facebook, Twitter, and email accounts) to get their affairs in order.
Justin R Key
- Licensed to practice law in all state courts in Kentucky and Indiana, and federal courts in Kentucky and southern Indiana. Offices in downtown Louisville and southern Indiana.Experience in Jefferson, Oldham, Bullitt, Nelson, Shelby, Spencer, and other counties in Kentucky; Clark, Floyd, Harrison, Washington, Jefferson, and Scott counties in Indiana.Practiced focused on helping individuals and families through some of their most difficult times. Experience and skill in family law and domestic litigation, including divorce, custody, child support, maintenance (alimony), domestic violence (EPO / DVO) and complex property division cases.Estate planning and probate practice, which includes prenuptial agreements, wills, trusts, power of attorneys, and living wills (health care surrogate).