You’ve got a Digital Life…but what about your Digital Afterlife?
When you are no longer able to manage your own on-line accounts, or after you are gone, what do you want to happen with them? Do you want a perpetual reminder to all of your Facebook friends that it’s your birthday, or a reminder of how long you have been Facebook “friends”? Do you want your account deleted? Do you want anyone to have access to your GoogleDocs, where you have written your unpublished memoir, or should it be deleted forever? How about all your photographs in Picasa? If something were to happen tomorrow to render you incapacitated - or worse - what would happen to your virtual life, including your on-line financial accounts?
Most internet account providers, like Facebook and Google, have “terms of service” that can prevent anyone but you from ever accessing your account (without your user name and password, of course). Their terms include deleting or suspending in perpetuity any data or information there. Is this really what you want?
While not the law in Maine as of June 2017, 35 states have adopted some form of the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets law (“RUFADA”). The goal of RUFADA is to respect a user’s intent as reflected in online account options and dispositive documents like a will, trust or power of attorney. The law allows those named in these documents to manage digital assets and requires providers to honor their properly documented authority to do so.
Until the law is adopted and applies to Maine residents, it is important to carefully review each of the terms of service agreements for your digital accounts, and provide what should happen in case of your incapacity or death, and if possible, name a trusted person you want to have access to and manage your account for you. Your legal or financial advisor can help you decide who that person should be for each such account.
In the case of Google’s Gmail, you can “Add a delegate” to your account which will allow someone you appoint to manage and even send emails on your behalf. For Facebook, ‘Legacy Contact’ will allow you to choose a family member or close friend to care for your account if something happens to you. You can also give them permission to download the contents of your Facebook page.
Failure to make these elections and designations can result in deletion of accounts, and/or long waits for family and heirs to access your digital accounts and assets. Be proactive while you can, and don’t forget to ask your advisor for help.