How to prepare your digital 'afterlife'
Almost everyone has them now: a Facebook account, Twitter, email and even online banking -- it's our virtual life. But unlike you, your online persona has no pulse, and when you die, the virtual "you" keeps on living.
This has led to frequent legal battles between online providers and grieving families, because constantly changing online service agreements prevent loved from accessing accounts.
"Even if you have a password sometimes your not able to access those based on the service providers agreement, saying that no one else but myself can have access to this account," said Schmid Malone estate attorney Tyler Friesen.
Friesen says since the Internet began, attorneys and those who write the laws have struggled to keep up with issues that arise in the rapidly changing online world.
Here in Oregon, Senate Bill 54 would have defined digital accounts and assets. It also would have provided access to digital accounts and electronic copies of assets with a written request. However, that bill died due to opposition in the Senate.
"It's still a bit unsettled as to what access family members have post-death," Friesen said.
He recommends planning ahead, and making sure your family and friends who you want to take over are in on the plan.
"Each of us can look at our own lives and say, 'Here's how many accounts we have, and there's a lot of them that we each have that are behind passwords,'" said Friesen. "Making a list of those for your family is helpful, even if it's just a snapshot on an annual basis of, 'Here's where I'm involved online.'"
Safety deposit boxes and password-protected USB devices are recommended for storing passwords.
There are also password-storing websites, such as "Legacy Locker." They allow you to store passwords and account information for designated people once you die.
Friesen said the most important information to leave is for your financial accounts.
"Now, when family members go to collect the assets, there's not something coming in the mail," said Friesen. "So finding the existence of some of these assets is a bit harder, now that it's just web-only."
Ever-changing email service agreements have posed problems to grieving families in the past, but a few are working to make it easier.
Gmail users can choose to have their data deleted after three months, six months or a year of inactivity.
Hotmail will provide relatives with a CD of messages from the email account, with the proof of power of attorney and a death certificate.
"Things like Facebook, Twitter and all the things now that are now our digital photo albums, those things are all very much in flux," said Friesen. "We don't have more subtle law, like a bank account or all those other assets."
For your social media accounts, Facebook says they will respect families' wishes and take down a site, if that's what's desired. They also give the option of removing status update features, and to leave the site up as a memorial page, so friends and family can continue to leave posts.
When it comes to leaving behind your passwords, Friesen said that's not something you need to give to your attorney, as they're always changing. He says to just make sure your estate attorney is aware of whom you would like your passwords to be given.
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