Facebook in my Will?

Estate planning traditionally concerns itself with insuring that a client’s wishes regarding the disposition of his or her property upon death are followed.  A good estate plan also includes tools to deal with the client’s incapacity or inability to make health-care decisions.  In addition to a will, and perhaps a living trust agreement, the plan should contain durable powers of attorney, health-care powers of attorney, and a living will.

Increasingly much of who we are is found in our e-mail accounts, Facebook pages, blogs or the websites that we use.  An estate plan that ignores these “digital assets” may expose the decedent and his family to several risks, such as:

  • Identity theft
  • Theft of content
  • Losses to the estate
  • Losing the decedent’s story

An estate plan that accounts for digital assets will ease the burden on a decedent’s executors, personal representatives and trustees.  For example, placing a list of e-mail and other online accounts, passwords, security questions and answers in a safe place, like a safety deposit box, where the person’s will and trust documents are located can facilitate the termination of those accounts.  The list should also contain any valuable domain names that the decedent owns so that the registration of those domain names can be renewed before they are lost to the public domain. (E.g. my firm’s domain name “legalcounselors.com”)

The provisions that grant powers to executors, trustees, and donees of powers of attorney should contain language that grants those persons appropriate rights and privileges to deal with digital assets.  At a minimum, they should grant those persons the power to access the accounts and obtain passwords.

Planning for the proper disposition of these digital assets requires knowledge of the assets the person owns and the possible exposure they create.  People have different digital lives.  For some their Facebook account is a valuable business asset.  Others would not be caught dead (pun intended) using Facebook.  One person may have valuable literary content on their blog but has never taken the time to register that content with the United States copyright office.  Only an estate planner sensitive to the needs of our information age can ask the right questions to get the right answers.

At Hymson Goldstein and Pantiliat, PLLC, we like to think ahead of the curve.  It’s just one way we can provide peace of mind for our clients, because that is our business. If you would like to augment or modify your estate plan to take your digital assets into account or for any other reason, please feel free to contact us.

Written by Attorney David B. Goldstein, dbg@hgplaw.com


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