DIGITAL EXECUTORS AND WHAT TO DO WITH YOUR DECEASED LOVED ONE’S ONLINE ACCOUNTS

Feb 18, 2015

It seems like anything and everything can be done with a few quick clicks of a mouse these days. You can email, shop, get an education, pay bills, book flights, invest……date? Whatever you choose to use the internet for, one thing is for sure; our online presence is HUGE and shows no signs of stopping. But what happens to your online life when you are no longer here? What happens to all of those family photos and videos that you have shared? Do you want these moments to die with you or would you like to allow your loved ones access to certain aspects of your online life? Digital assets may not be the first thing on your mind when it comes to putting together your estate plan, but in today’s technology driven world, how can it not be? While some companies are now giving their subscribers the option of what they would like to happen to their accounts when they are gone, many are not. So what do you do? Perhaps you should consider naming a Digital Executor? This person will be responsible for ensuring your end of life requests involving your digital assets are carried out. Make sure that you leave instructions, along with a list of your account information and passwords to allow this trusted person access to your accounts when you are gone. We recommend your account information and passwords be kept in two separate places just in case they were to be found and fall into the wrong hands. You may also consider giving your Digital Executor power of attorney over these accounts because depending on the type of account, it may be necessary.

Home phone, Internet or TV Services can usually be deactivated by calling the numbers listed below and require around the same amount of information; the account number (or phone number for telephone accounts) or the most recent payment made, the last four digits of the account holders social security number and/or password, and in some cases a death certificate. Because these companies often lock their clients into lengthy contracts, there may be early termination fees. These fees and any remaining balance should then become the responsibility of the Estate (given the deceased was the only one listed on the account).

AT&T Wireless Accounts – 800-331-0500

Additional AT&T Services – 800-288-2020

Comcast/Xfinity – 1-800-934-6489

Direct TV – 800-531-5000

Dish – 855-318-0572

Sprint – 888-211-4727

T-Mobile – 800-866-2453

Verizon Wireless Accounts – 800-922-0204

Additional Verizon Services – 800-837-4966

Online streaming accounts, like Hulu, Netflix, Pandora, and Skype often offer different types of accounts; free and paid. These accounts can be accessed online using a user name and password and usually deleted by using a “delete” or “cancel my account” tab, or something similar. Pandora requires that you contact their support department via email or directly from their website in order to cancel. Paid accounts may have a remaining balance and will send a bill that will become the responsibility of the estate (again, as long as the deceased was the only name listed on the account).

Shopping accounts, such as Ebay, and Etsy are usually pretty straightforward when it comes to closing an account and offer a separate “close my account” tab or page. Once you are able to access the account with the deceased’s user name and password, you should only have to answer a couple of questions and select close. Be sure to settle the accounts before you do this, however, because once the account is terminated all sales, balances, and disputes are wiped out as well.

Investment accounts, such as E-Trade are usually fairly easy to close as well. Some of these accounts will go into an “inactive” phase all on their own after a set amount of time, but also offer a separate “close my account” tab or page that can be accessed and shut down with just the click of a mouse. You can also contact E-Trade directly at 1-800-ETRADE-1.

Online money transfer and banking accounts, such as PayPal can be closed fairly easily, if you have the user name and password. If not, you must contact the company and provide information such as a death certificate and copy of a Will or legal proof that you are the estate’s administrator. You will also have to submit a copy of your photo ID. Because these accounts handle money transactions, they are more difficult to close out and may require a power of attorney. These accounts will mostly likely also need to be reviewed by the company’s legal department before handing over any remaining funds and can sometimes turn into a long drawn out process.

Social media and imaging accounts, like, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram offer a couple different possibilities in regards to closing your account; deactivating or deleting. Deactivating the site will allow the site to be preserved but no longer accessible while deleting it will completely remove it for good. If you do not have the ability to access the social media site you can submit a request form to the site host directly. They will usually require a death certificate and proof that you are able to act on behalf of the deceased and their estate. Facebook has now come up with a new option that allows you to choose a “Legacy Contact.” This contact will be granted limited access to your account once you are gone and given the ability to pin posts to your wall, download your pictures and accept new friend requests. They will not be allowed to delete friends, remove pictures or posts or access your personal messages.

Personal or Business Websites, such as WordPress can be deleted by logging into the site with a user name and password and clicking on “Tools” from the site’s dashboard. Then selecting “Delete Site”. The email address that is associated with the site will get some kind of confirmation link or message and instruct you on what to do to officially shut the site down.

Email and search accounts, like AOL, and Yahoo can be fairly easy to cancel, if you have the user name and password, but if not, these online companies must follow very strict rules and regulations which are outlined in their very long and very boring legalized terms and conditions, and can be difficult to remove. Google however, is the first to offer a service which can eliminate the necessity for a loved one to go through such lengths to close your account. The service is called “Inactive Account Manager” and it will send you a text or message if you have remained inactive for a specified amount of time. You choose the amount of time (3, 6, 9, or 12 months) and provide contact information for up to ten family members and/or friends. Google will alert you one month before your timeout period begins and if you do not respond, will reach out to those whose information you provided. Once it is confirmed that you are deceased, they will follow your instructions, either granting those listed access to your account or deleting your account on your behalf. To set up your Inactive Account Manager log in and access your Accounts page. There will be a link underneath the Account Management Section and from there you simply follow the four step instructions.

If all else fails and you are still unable to shut these accounts down, read over the “Terms of Service” clause usually located at the bottom of a site’s page or contact customer service. Whether it be digital assets or otherwise, never assume that what you want after death is what will happen. Do you have a special message for your loved ones or do you want to post special photos on your social media accounts? Perhaps you want certain people to receive certain fair wells or albums? If so, you must leave instructions outlining your wishes. Specify who you want to handle your affairs and how you want them handled.

For more information regarding Estate Planning contact our office to set up your complimentary consultation by calling 281 398 0088 or visiting us online at www.behlmannlaw.com.

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