After you're gone: tips for handling your digital property

estate planning attorney la crosse wi

My spouse and I are wondering what will happen to our Facebook accounts when we pass away. Does Facebook shut them down? Will our accounts remain as long as Facebook is still in business?

You may have thought estate planning is simply a matter of naming trusted individuals to care for your home, savings and loved ones upon incapacity or death. Often forgotten, though, is planning for digital property, said estate planning attorney Heidi Eglash, referring to materials stored on your computer, phone or tablet, or with a cloud-based vendor.

What happens to your Facebook page after you die? Who has access to your email, digital photos, iTunes music and personal computer files? Do we really want companies such as Apple to protect our privacy, even if it means that court orders may be necessary to gain access to the devices we purchase from them?

To address these important questions, digital service providers are establishing policies. “Facebook, for example, allows you to choose whether to remove your page at death or to make it a memorial page,” said Eglash. “You may also authorize a Legacy Contact to manage your account, and Google has created an Inactive Account Manager that allows you to authorize access to your accounts.

Not all companies have such policies, so Wisconsin last year adopted the Wisconsin Digital Property Act. This defines digital property and creates a tiered system of managing it through an online tool, legal documents or the default provisions contained in the new statutes.

Wisconsin’s Digital Property Act gives people choices about how their digital property should be managed and by whom. The first step in exercising these is deciding whether to use online settings to appoint someone to manage your digital assets or to designate someone in a durable power of attorney, will or trust to do so. Of greatest importance is keeping an inventory of digital property, along with written instructions and passwords stored in a secure but accessible location. “Luckily, there are tools becoming available to us to do just this,” Eglash said.

la crosse wi estate planning attorneyInformation provided by Heidi Eglash, La Crosse WI Estate Planning Attorney. For more on estate planning in Wisconsin, call her at 608-784-5678.


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