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Estate Planning Trend Watch: Digital Wills

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Computer Case Key by Collin Allen on Flickr

Computer Case Key by Collin Allen on Flickr

The Telegraph is reporting a new estate planning trend in Great Britain: digital wills.

So-called “legacy companies” are now offering clients the opportunity to leave their online login details and passwords as well as instructions on what to do with each account upon the account holder’s demise. And we’re not just talking about shutting down a deceased person’s Twitter account here. The Telegraph writes:

By accessing the information from a secure server, an executor can erase secret email folders, close subscriptions to gambling or pornography websites or remove photographs from Facebook pages.

The way the digital wills work is that the pertinent information and instructions are stored in a secret location to be accessed by the user up until his or her death and then by the appointed guardian after the production of a death certificate.

Another option for those planning for their so-called “digital legacies” is the Dead Man’s Switch, which allows a user to compose emails to certain people and then specify when he or she would like to be contacted to check in, i.e, assure he or she is still alive.

From the website, “These dates are called “intervals”. For example, for intervals of ’15, 30, 60,’ Dead Man’s Switch will email you 15 and 30 days after your last checkin. If you don’t check in again in that period of time, all your messages will be sent 60 days after your last checkin.”

Digital wills, on the other hand, take things a step further by adding a semi-legal component with a “digital will guardian,” or a kind of “power of online access attorney,” so to speak. One can only wonder whether the next step is a “durable” version of such power through which incapacitation could also give rise to the guardian’s taking over of another person’s online affairs.

As The Telegraph notes, some states in America have already passed laws allowing executors to access or shut down a deceased’s online activities, but this is certainly an area of the law that is evolving with the technology.

Have you made plans for your digital legacy? Have you had to handle someone else’s online presence after his or her death? Would a digital will interest you?

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November 21st, 2012 at 5:58 am

Posted in Estate Planning

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