Digital Estate Planning: Managing Online Assets and Digital Legacies

People often joke about the need to appoint someone to delete their browser history after they die, but the fear of being judged for your digital diet is real. If you died today, would you really want your loved ones to know what videos you were watching on YouTube? Be able to track your comments on Reddit? Or read all the messages you have exchanged with friends? 

On the other hand, there are also digital assets you probably want your loved ones to have access to after your death. Photos and videos are now stored on our phones or in the cloud instead of being printed out. Many people have money sitting in various apps, or invested in crypto currency. And some online accounts or memberships — think Amazon Prime — are managed by one person but used by their entire family on shared devices. 

At Palmer & Slay PLLC, we are working with individuals in the Brandon, Mississippi area to incorporate digital assets into their estate plan, and helping draft instructions for clients who want to ensure someone will delete their proverbial (or literal!) browser history. 

Mississippi’s Limited Digital Asset Law

In 2017, Mississippi became one of several states that has passed the Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets and Digital Accounts Act. The law gives estate executors and personal representatives the power to request access to online accounts held by a loved one who has died or become incapacitated. 

Depending on the type of account involved, the person seeking access may be handed the username and password so they can act as their loved one. Or they may be given a copy of whatever data is stored in an account. 

Users can control what sort of access their loved ones can get to their accounts by spelling out their wishes in a “will, trust, power of attorney or other record evidencing the user’s consent to disclosure of the content of electronic communications” or by opting in to account management tools offered by an online service provider (think Google) that turn on when a user becomes incapacitated or passes away. 

Steps You Can Take To Protect Your Privacy & Preserve Your Assets 

With the above law in mind, Palmer & Slay’s estate planning team is helping our clients be proactive about managing their digital assets. 

We encourage all of our clients to keep a running list of the online accounts they create. We then talk to them about what they want to happen to these accounts after their death. Having us draft specific instructions to include in your estate plan is much more efficient than forcing your loved ones to jump through all of the legal hoops created by the Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets and Digital Accounts Act in order to prove you have died and they are the ones who should take custody of your various accounts. And we can help you block access to accounts you would rather keep private — something the law does not cover. 

We can also guide you through the process of opting in to account management tools some of the big online companies have created to address the issues that arise when users die or become incapacitated. Facebook, for example, allows users to delegate the power to shut down their account or turn it into a memorial page to a friend or family member. 

Preserving Your Wealth. Protecting Your Loved Ones. 

Palmer & Slay works closely with our estate planning clients in the Brandon, Mississippi area to ensure their end of life wishes are respected. As more aspects of our lives have moved online, we have helped ensure digital assets are treated with the same care as tangible ones. 

If you have digital assets you want to incorporate into your estate plan, or need to gain access to a deceased person’s account, Palmer & Slay is here for you. Please contact our office to schedule a consultation.