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gary-m-schuster-smallHere in the age of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, most of us have what has come to be called a “digital estate.” This is the collection of user names and passwords we use to access the websites of our banks, brokerage accounts, insurance agencies, vendors, news media, social media and countless other place we log on to. An unnerving but increasingly common experience is for people to discover that the Facebook page of their recently deceased friend does not go away. In fact it may somehow stay active. More seriously, your loved ones may be hindered or delayed in accessing important financial information if they do not know the necessary websites, user names and passwords. For many reasons, people need to take steps to properly bequeath their digital property.

The first step is to make a list of all the websites you use, along with the associated user names and passwords. This may take a while. You may not access a site for several weeks or months, and then realize you need to add it to your list. Your list is obviously valuable and needs to be safeguarded. It could be placed in a bank safe deposit box, but gaining access to those boxes after death can be problematic. A fireproof box at home might be appropriate. You might give the list to a trusted relative or friend. There are now websites for secure storage of sensitive information, such as Legacy Locker or SecureSafe. There is no single answer for all people on this issue. Careful consideration must be given to storage of your list. Don’t forget to keep it current.

When you prepare your Will, you should include directions as to your digital estate. What do you want to happen to your Facebook page? Do you want your executor to make one final posting? Do you want the account closed, with all the photos and comments removed? Or do you want them to remain so everyone can remember you? What about You Tube? LinkedIn? Your answer may differ from site to site since some sites are financial, some are social and some are career-oriented. Whatever your wishes, you (or your attorney) will need to review the Terms of Use of each site. Terms of Use are contracts which increasingly specify what is and is not permissible following the death of a user. The requirements for an heir to gain access to an account can often be fairly onerous. Properly planning means providing your heirs with the tools they will need for each website.

Traditionally, a person making a Will appoints an executor who will sell the house and cars, collect debts, pay bills and distribute the remainder to the heirs. You should consider whether your chosen executor is sufficiently tech savvy to carry out the digital part of the job. There is no reason why you cannot appoint two (or more) executors, each with specific duties, and one of whom will be appointed your Digital Executor.

Gary Schuster is Senior Counsel on the Business & Estates Team. He can be reached by phone at 845-778-2121 toll free or 845-778-2121 and by email.

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