Estate plans and electronic data

Florida residents who are in the process of developing their estate plans may think that once they have put together a will or trust and designated beneficiaries for various accounts, they are finished. Many people forget about the increasing prevalence of online accounts and electronic passwords.

These are not just for online bill paying accounts or social media but for offline uses as well, such as screen lock passwords for computers, phones and other devices. Without a list of passwords, family members may have to get death certificates in order to access online accounts. In Canada, a woman had to get a court order so she could get her husband’s iPad password after his death in order to play games on it.

One option is a password management system like LastPass. People may also want to leave instructions regarding how their social media accounts are handled. For example, a Facebook account might be deleted or might be made into a memorial. Photos and other sentimental items may also be stored electronically. In many cases, the use of social media has outpaced applicable laws, and there is no standardized approach that covers these types of issues. However, estate and financial planners may eventually begin to incorporate these aspects into their work.

Estate planning attorneys often advise their clients to communicate with family members and beneficiaries about their intentions. The same should be done regarding electronic accounts and data. For example, some people might want their family members to be able to access their photos on a private Instagram account, to inform people on a forum they frequent about their death, and to shut down a Twitter account to protect it from hacking. They might also have instructions about files on their hard drive.