During the year, I work with family members who are administering their loved ones’ estates. During that process, we discover that the loved one had a number of online financial accounts and profiles on various social media websites, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. The problem then becomes the ability of a loved one to access those online accounts and social media sites. Those loved ones need to manage and eventually close all of those online accounts and social media websites to prevent scammers from utilizing a deceased individual’s personal identification to create creditor issues.
A number of websites and social media sites allow a user to select certain privacy settings so that if the user passes away, they have authorized a certain individual to access their online account or their social media website. Each online account and social media website can have different requirements. Therefore, it is important to actually understand the user agreement for each of these websites.
If, however, the deceased individual has not provided an individual with access to an account or social media website after they pass away, this will potentially create complications for the deceased individual’s estate. Those complications include potentially having to open an estate and obtaining a court order in order for an executor to have access to an individual’s online account and/or social media website. Another necessary step in this process is to make sure that your will, power of attorney, and trust have provisions in them that allow your executor, trustee, and/or power of attorney respectively to have access to those accounts and social media websites. Without specific instructions in the will, trust, and power of attorney, those fiduciaries will not have legal access to those online accounts or social media websites.
After that individual passes away and if there is a need to open up an estate at the probate court in the county where the decedent resided, the executor will need to work with each individual online account and social media website to close those accounts. This will prevent scammers from using the deceased individual’s profile.
Another option with this situation is to make sure that you have all of your user names and passwords available to your executors, trustees, and powers of attorney so that they can have access to your online accounts and social media websites. Of course, there are concerns with allowing those individuals to have those user names and passwords while you are living, and, therefore, you need to make a decision on a case by case basis of whether or not to give someone else your user names and passwords on your online accounts and social media websites during your life. Even if you don’t provide that information during your life, you should make sure that information is available after your death.
For those individuals who own cryptocurrency, special care must be taken by the owner to make sure the fiduciaries are aware of its existence. Instead of a tangible piece of currency that you can hold and take with you, cryptocurrency is a digital asset that can be exchanged for items of value. Bitcoin is one such type of cryptocurrency. For those individuals who own cryptocurrency, this can become a real problem when an individual becomes incapacitated or passes away and the loved one is unaware of the cryptocurrency or the specific passwords involved. Therefore, you should also consider making sure that your executor, trustee, and power of attorney have access to your passwords as it relates to any cryptocurrency you may have.
Please contact your estate planning attorney to make sure you receive more information regarding these matters, and make sure that your wills, trusts, and powers of attorney authorize your fiduciaries to access your online accounts and social media websites.
NOTE: This general summary of the law should not be used to solve individual problems since slight changes in the fact situation may require a material variance in the applicable legal advice.