Estate planning documents such as a Will or Trust allow for the distribution of assets and tangible possessions, but what about your online accounts? With an increasing amount of our lives being devoted to the internet, a new type of planning has been introduced to account for this. Major internet companies like Google and Facebook are pioneering the concept of what many are calling “Digital Heirs.”
Google was the first to allow users to appoint someone to share their data with when their account becomes inactive. Google calls this person an “inactive account manager.” The person you appoint as your inactive account manager does not receive actual control over your account, but does receive access to data that you wish to be passed on to them. Upon setting this up, you choose which data your contact is allowed access to. The person you assign is not contacted at the time of assignment but is notified when your account becomes inactive after a designated period of time. When this happens your inactive account manager will receive an email with a link to download your data. An example of what the email looks like can be found here,https://support.google.com/accounts/answer/3036546?hl=en. To designate an inactive account manager on google click the following, https://www.google.com/settings/account/inactive.
As of this February, Facebook is also allowing users to authorize someone to manage and memorialize their account. Previously when Facebook became aware that a person was deceased, their account was frozen. Now, users can appoint a “legacy contact” who will have access to certain aspects of their Facebook page. Currently the legacy contact can write a post to display at the top of the deceased’s page, change their profile picture, respond to a new friend request, and with prior permission can download an archive of posts and photos. The legacy contact is NOT allowed to download private messages, can’t edit what the deceased has already posted or what friends have posted, and can’t decide to delete the account. To set up a legacy contact on your Facebook account go to settings, security, and then click on legacy contact at the bottom of the page. Please note that Facebook only allows users to choose one legacy contact and there is no option for a backup. You can, however, change the legacy contact at any point. For more information about the Facebook legacy contact please view the following article from the Wall Street Journal, http://www.wsj.com/articles/facebook-heir-time-to-choose-who-manages-your-account-when-you-die-1423738802.