Planning for…Your Digital Legacy

We all have online accounts in various forms: e-mail, social media, e-commerce, document sharing platforms, finance management applications, text documents, etc. But what happens to these accounts during an incapacity or after death? Who will manage and/or terminate these accounts to protect your identity and safeguard your sensitive information?

Many companies, such as Google, Apple, eBay, and PayPal, have their own policies when it comes to releasing digital information to a decedent’s loved ones. For example, Apple recently denied a Canadian woman’s request to retrieve her late husband’s password for his Apple account, saying a court order was needed. Although Apple has since backed down on this requirement after a media firestorm, there is no indication that Apple will change its restrictive policy going forward. Thus, the struggle to obtain the digital data of an incapacitated or deceased person will likely continue to plague family members who are already dealing with emotional turmoil.

Illinois isn’t much better than these big companies; as the date of this article, Illinois has no direct law governing the right of a loved one to access the digital assets of a deceased or incapacitated individual. The proposed Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (SB 1376) remains just that, a proposal, and not yet a law. So how can we grant access to this information without all of the trouble?

Despite Springfield’s unsurprising delay, there are things that you can do today to protect your digital legacy and allow necessary access to your digital assets. Sure, you can share your usernames and passwords with someone, but that brings a host of legal concerns and potential for grave consequences. But there are simple, legal measures you can take today to protect yourself and provide necessary access in the event of your untimely death or incapacity:

  1. Prepare a list, whether handwritten or in a text file stored on a secure flash drive or memory stick, that details your online presence and account information, and inform a trustworthy person as to the location of this list. Here at Lavelle Law, we have a document that we give to our clients titled “I Have Put My House In Order,” which provides space for this checklist of online assets and accounts, making it easier for your agent, executor, or trustee to find and protect this information. Click here for pdf version.
  2. Your Power of Attorney for Property can grant your agent access to your digital assets in the event of your incapacity.
  3. Your Will can grant your executor with the power to deal with your digital assets after your death in the same manner that you are able to retrieve and manage information during your life.
  4. Your Revocable Living Trust can provide the acting trustee the ability to handle transactions on online accounts or assets titled in the name of your trust, allowing for the management of this type of digital assets both during your life and after your death.

By having these (and other) important documents in place, you can protect yourself and relieve your loved ones from the untold stress of trying to retrieve and safeguard your digital assets. Take control today and protect your Digital Legacy for tomorrow.

Should you wish to discuss these issues or learn more about why estate planning is not just for the rich and famous, please feel free to contact the author, attorney Ryan W. Gardner at Lavelle Law, at 847-705-7555 or rgardner@lavellelaw.com.

Disclaimer: This article provides legal information of a general nature and is not intended as legal advice, nor does it create an attorney-client relationship with any person or group of persons. Should you wish to obtain legal advice concerning your particular situation, contact an attorney.