Your Digital Afterlife

Facebook Login ScreenWhat happens to your digital remains after you die? Your Facebook account, pictures uploaded to a photo sharing site, iTunes purchases — the memories we share online and the assets we store on computers don’t disappear after we’re gone, but granting access to them isn’t something most people think about even when they’re working with a qualified estate planner.

The subject of death in the world of social networks is raising new questions. What do you do with a loved one’s digital holdings like posts, blog items and photos? How long should those items, or even memorial pages, remain floating around the Internet? And what legal rights do survivors have in dealing with these affairs?
The questions are so numerous and confusing and painful that a cottage industry has sprung up to help those who must grapple with them.

“The modern era of the Internet is transformational,” Jeremy Toeman, the CEO and founder of San Francisco-based Legacy Locker, which helps customers get their loved ones’ digital affairs in order. “No one has really thought it through. It shouldn’t be up to Facebook or Twitter to decide what to do (with your holdings). It should be up to you.”

Yet there seem to be very few rules or instructions indicating when the accounts get shut down and who controls that decision. And the rules that are in effect are usually in the fine print presented when you initially sign on as a member, and which few people read.

Sometimes the terms give the deceased’s legal representative, such as the spouse or the executor of the estate, control over the accounts, says Rebekah Jackson Sapirstein, a San Francisco-based attorney specializing in estate planning and trust and probate matters. “For instance, Gmail allows the legal representative to take control of the account after death. However, they require a court order to prove you are the legal representative, which people in California with a trust would not normally need.”

* The information contained in this Blog is intended for general information and educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or an opinion of counsel.