Do Digital Lives Demand Estate Planning?

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Digital lives require estate planning.

When people do not prepare for their possible incapacity or eventual deaths, they can leave their loved ones faced with significant challenges.

Considered a recent cautionary tale involving a man named John Ajemian.

At the age of 43, he died in a bicycle accident.

John had no last will and testament and his brother and sister were left trying to make sense of what he left behind.

While trying to find the extent of his assets, they thought having access to his email would be helpful.

Their request was denied by Yahoo, which cited the 1986 Stored Communication Act.

Undeterred, these two siblings sued and eventually received a favorable ruling from the Massachusetts Supreme Court in 2017.

According to a recent Morning Brew article titled “Your digital self will outlive you,” those who fail to create an estate plan – and fail to include their digital lives in the plans – will likely leave such struggles for their own loved ones to sort out.

Digital lives demand estate planning.
The digital lives of people are multifaceted.

It is admittedly a complex issue.

While having access to emails could be helpful in administering an estate, it also lays bare the most private aspects of your online life to your loved ones.

Consider your feelings and thoughts regarding loved ones reading every post you have created or every email you have sent.

When planning for digital assets, it includes more than online bank accounts.

The digital lives of people are far more comprehensive and include social media, photos stored in the cloud, password protected creative works, and even digital wallets holding cryptocurrency.

Without a plan in place, these assets and aspects of digital lives could be hacked, stolen from, or erased.

The ethics of digital estate planning are still relatively new and hotly debated.

What exists in the digital realm easily outlives the people who owned or created them.

Consider how you want descendants to know or remember you.

Although forty-seven states have adopted a version of the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act, the framework allowing a designated individual to have access to digital assets only works if a person is specifically selected for this role.

While a person may have given consideration to aspects of their traditional estate planing, many still have failed to address their digital lives.

Some platforms have created their own guidelines for handling accounts on their platforms.

For example, Facebook allows a legacy contact to be designated.

This contact is limited to accessing Messenger history.

To protect your account from scammers or other complications, a plan should be created specifically to address these concerns.

In short, digital lives require estate planning.

This is not simple stuff to consider, but it is important to consider and address.

Reference: Morning Brew (July 1, 2022) “Your digital self will outlive you”

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