What does your digital estate look like?
Your digital estate is made up of all of your digital assets and can include money or gift cards in online accounts, tokens or virtual gold in World of Warcraft, domain names, blogs, social media accounts, digital photo accounts, your email account, and cloud storage accounts. Wikipedia defines digital asset as “anything that exists in a binary format and comes with the right to use.” Black’s Law Dictionary is a little more specific and defines digital asset as “ An electronic record in which someone has a right or interest. Examples include e-mails, text messages, photos, digital music, digital videos, electronic documents, social-media accounts, online accounts, and gaming avatars.”
What happens to all of that when you’re gone?
Do you want your estate to be able access and archive your emails or photos, or post on your blog, or do you specifically not want them to be able to see any of that?
If you have specific wishes as to what happens to each asset, you’ll want to make sure to include your digital assets with other assets in your estate planning. In absence of a concrete plan, assets will revert to your estate and some actions will not be available (account providers, for the most part, will not share the content of your account without a court order that explicitly states that you wanted the information to be shared with them (under the Stored Communications Act). Digital assets that your estate isn’t aware of will just languish. Talk to your estate attorney about how to manage your digital estate (most states have adopted some version of the Uniform Law Commission’s Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets, or the Revised version (details by state can be found here)).
I looked up the policies of a few common website and here’s what I found:
Ebay asks that you contact them for help closing an account for a deceased family member. Ebay accounts can’t be sold so likely can’t be passed on either – I suspect you can just close it.
PayPal requires the following document from the estate administrator in order to close out the account and send the money that is in it:
- A cover sheet from the Requestor (or a person who is duly appointed or authorized to administer the estate of the deceased customer) identifying the account by the primary email address and request to have PayPal account closed
- A copy of the death certificate for the account holder
- A copy of a government issued photo ID (such as a driver’s license, passport or state-issued ID) of the Requestor
- Legal documentation or a copy of the will that identifies the executor of the estate
- State issued documentation if a living will is not present
Etsy will not provide access to the account, but will work with the estate administrator to close the account and provide certain content.
Google has an ‘inactive account manager’ tool that allows you to make some choices about what happens to your account after it’s been inactive for an specified amount of time. You can choose how long the account should be inactive before any action is triggered, you can choose to have your account deleted if inactive for that amount of time, or you can choose to have a trusted contact notified of the inaction and choose how much information to share with that person.
In the event that the ‘inactive account manager’ tool was not used, Google provides a few options. The estate administrator or family member can close the account by filling out a form and providing a death certificate and your government issued ID. The estate administrator can remove funds from the account after providing the documents above and a copy of the letters of testamentary. Google will only provide data from an account with a court order if you haven’t specifically chosen to share the data using the ‘inactive account manager’ tool.
Yahoo will close the account at the request of the personal representative. The data will not be shared, and passwords and login information will not be shared.
Facebook allows you to make some choices in your memorialization settings. You can set a legacy contact who will be able to have some control of your account in the event of your death, including posting, responding to friend requests, and viewing all posts. Your legacy contact will not be able to read your messages or login into your actual facebook account. You can also choose to have your account deleted upon your death in the memorialization settings.
In the event that no memorialization settings are set, family members can contact facebook to either have the page memorialized or deleted, but in absence of a legacy contact, no changes can be made.
Twitter will work with the estate to delete the account but will not give anyone access to the account.
If you don’t sign into your dropbox account for a year, your dropbox account will become inactive and will automatically be deleted. There is no option to choose to have the account deleted upon your death.
Dropbox will not share the files of the deceased without a court order, though they do suggest that you check the person’s computer to see if the files are there.
GoDaddy will allow the personal representative to gain access to the GoDaddy account, including domain names after the death of the account holder by providing a death certificate, letters of testamentary, and ID of the personal administrator.
World of Warcraft
Your World of Warcraft account is under your Blizzard account – it is not stated on the website if you can transfer ownership of the account or the assets in it to your estate, you’d have to open a ticket with them to find out.