What Happens to Your Online Presence When You Pass Away?
Written by Kevin M. O'Brien
Traditionally, estate plans have been paper documents that spell out decedent’s wishes regarding property, executorships’ responsibilities, funding of trusts, and the like. These documents generally consist of Wills, Trusts, Power of Attorney, Health Care Proxies, and maybe the use of the Homestead Act. While all these documents still represent the foundation of a modern-day estate plan, the internet has added a whole new dimension to establishing a sound and effective plan.
Online banking, employer plans, investments, and even tax returns can be interactively utilized at the click of a keyboard. However, if a decedent doesn’t inform their survivors of lay information like URLs, passwords, and PINs, this information could be inaccessible at the most critical of times.
I recently heard a story of a woman whose husband ran the finances while he was alive. Upon his death, she didn’t know anything about his stock options at his former employer. She subsequently lost over $19,000 because they expired without her exercising them. I’m sure the $19,000 would have come in handy when the undertaker’s bill arrived! As you can see, this critical information should be stored in a safe place, and your executor or heirs should be aware of its whereabouts when needed.
Furthermore, with the popularity of social networking these days, what would happen to your online presence upon your death? Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter all have specific policies in dealing with this situation. Facebook allows friends and family members the option of either “memorializing” the profile or removing it entirely. Memorializing the profile allows it to be viewed by those whom the account holder had confirmed as “friends.” Friends may post on the deceased wall, but can’t log into the account. Removing the profile entirely may only be done by immediate family members. On Facebook’s website, search for “How Do I Report a Deceased User or an Account That Needs to be Memorialized?” You will need proof of death, such as an obituary or news article.
Twitter users can email [email protected] or via fax at (415)-222-9958. They will need the deceased’s User Name or a link to the account profile page. A link to the obituary or news article is acceptable as well. Twitter accounts can only be removed.
Linked In can be contacted via fax at (402)-715-4536 or directly on their website. A “Verification of Death Form” is required to be completed and submitted. You will need the account holder’s email address, URL of their Linked In profile, date of death, and a Death Notice.
Blog services may vary from service provider to service provider, so check their policies for removing deceased user’s accounts. Usually the blog’s URL and the URL to the login page with the username and password should be a good start.
All these documents and information should be kept in a safe place and someone you trust should be aware of how to access it upon your death or incapacitation. Preferably it is stored electronically, encrypted, and has a redundant back-up in the event a disaster recovery is needed.
As you can see, in today’s digital age, this is not your grandparent’s estate plan anymore… or is it?
About the Author: Kevin M. O'Brien, CFP®, an Accredited Investment Fiduciary® (AIF®), and founder and president of PEAK Financial Services, Inc., has helped hundreds of individuals and organizations reach their financial goals since 1986. He is a Certified Financial Planner and a Chartered Advisor to Philanthropy. Visit his company website: WWW.PEAKFS.COM