You can’t take it with you: Digital access after death

Before the law went into effect, it could be very difficult for families to access their late loved ones’ digital properties

A headstone next to a tree. (Tony Hutson via Creative Commons)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – A new state law that went into effect on January 1 aims to help Oregonians access the online accounts of their loved ones after they pass away.

Before the law went into effect, it could be very difficult for families to access their late loved ones’ digital properties.

Giving someone a username, password and security question answers isn’t good enough, and after someone dies, accounts are often frozen. Billing and bank information can become difficult to access.

With this new law, Oregon has become the first state in the nation to make it easier to access all that information. The new law will let others have access to accounts, but family members have to give them written legal authority while they are still alive.

People can be designated as personal representatives, and those that are have power of attorney or a trustee. Without representatives, online providers can delete or freeze a dead individual’s accounts. Families could be locked out of everything from photos to bank and credit card accounts.

A few online providers are now offering some limited ways to let users designate what happens to their accounts after they die.

Google has an inactive account manager tab where users are able to designate someone who can access the account or even for the account to eventually be deleted. Facebook has a legacy manager where users can indicate they want their account deleted.

Even with those options, some very limited and financial accounts are often frozen as soon as the bank learns of a death.

For those accounts there is what’s called a virtual asset instruction letter or “VAIL” that can be put together. To set one up, the following steps must be completed: (Information from samuelslaw.com)

  1. Identify each internet account that you have, and determine how each company handles an account when the account holder dies
  2. Determine which accounts you want your representative to maintain and have access to, and prepare a written and electronic file list of those accounts with their passwords.
  3. Determine which accounts you wish to have deleted and provide the necessary written instructions to do so.
  4. Consider saving the account and access information on a CD or memory stick, and store it in a safe place. Give your representative instructions about how to access this information. Don’t forget to update it as passwords change.
  5. If you have a collection of pictures or other memorabilia that are being store on the internet, consider making a backup of that information to a disk drive or CD you control. Store this information in a safe place, and provide your personal representative with instructions on how to obtain that information.
  6. Upgrade your power of attorney to include provisions authorizing your agent to access your emails and other electronic data.
  7. If someone other than your personal representative is being designated to handle your electronic data, then those individuals should be named in your will or other estate planning documents.

For more information on that letter and protecting digital assets, click visit samuelslaw.com.