Laredo, principal of Laredo Law, says digital assets — including social media profiles, email accounts, loyalty points, and online banking — have become just as important to many people as their physical ones in recent years.
But that doesn’t always mean they get the same level of attention when it comes to estate planning, says Laredo, who usually has to address the issue with clients, advising them to take inventory of their digital lives.
“It makes things easier if you are keeping an updated list of all your online accounts and passwords because the problem is that when you die, privacy laws often require a court order before any of that information can be released,” Laredo tells AdvocateDaily.com. “When you’re drawing up your estate plan, make sure the list is attached to the will, and review it every couple of years to make sure it’s still accurate.”
However, Laredo warns against placing the list in a safety deposit box, since banks place strict limits on access after the owner’s death, leading to lengthy delays before heirs can see what they’re dealing with. Instead, she advises clients to keep their list in a safe place and tell a trusted friend or family member where it can be found in the event of their passing. Laredo says the drafting of a power of attorney for property is a good time for individuals to make sure their financial and online banking details are up to date and to their appointed person knows how to access them in the future.
“Banking, in particular, becomes very difficult and cumbersome without access to online accounts,” she says. “If something happens to you, they’ll be able to take care of things, and it will be one less thing to worry about.”
Some U.S. states have begun drafting legislation that deals with estate administrators’ rights to access, control and terminate digital accounts of the deceased, but no Canadian jurisdiction has so far taken concrete action to offer some guidelines for estate trustees in this country, Laredo says.
While social media sites differ in their policies, Facebook provides users with the option of permanent deletion or a “memorialized” account, which may be looked after by a legacy contact if one is appointed by the person before their death, she says.
Without the ability to control active profiles, Laredo says family members’ helplessness can often become a barrier to their grieving process.
“It can be distressing for surviving friends and family to see other people writing about their loved ones without being able to respond or remove comments,” she says.