Does Your Avatar have a Will?
By: Alex M. Rechenmacher
At a time when the generation that brought you the personal computer moves on to retirement, for the first time, people are beginning to wonder what will happen to their “digital estate” when they pass on. Many of us take several precautions to restrict access to our computer accounts, from the computer’s “log on screen”, to our Facebook accounts and establishing usernames and passwords to conduct online banking. All those precautions provide us with the sense of security in knowing that our digital presence is well protected. But what happens to these accounts if you end up in a hospital or die without leaving someone a “key” to unlock them?
Most already know the importance of an estate plan which will allow your loved one the ability to make healthcare decisions or manage your property in the event that you are no longer able to do so. Making your intentions clear through the use of a Will, Trust or Power of Attorney avoids confusion and reduces the chance of disputes which could cost both time and legal fees. But while few people take the time to make their wishes clear, even fewer consider what will happen to their online ‘presence’.
Of course, planning for these events goes beyond simply deciding who will receive your accumulated online gaming points. Will you leave someone in charge of updating your blog, or the web site that you run for your home or business? Who will continue to manage your “online bill pay” accounts, check your e-mail, set up a forwarding address, or close those online subscriptions?
Illinois law provides some assistance in these areas through the use of a Power of Attorney for Property (“PPOA”) or through the use of a Will or Trust. The PPOA generally grants your agent the ability to handle any property that you “own” in the event of incapacity, while the Will or Trust can assist with managing these assets (including any e-mail or blogging accounts) in the case of death.
Even if you have thought about these issues, the answers are still not simple. Is the person that you want to close your credit card account the same person you want to give access to your e-mail? Does the Executor of your Will have the technical knowledge to be able to handle your online accounts? Does your agent, trustee or executor even know about all the accounts that you own?
Those generations that grew up with technology are beginning to think about what to do with their ‘digital estate’. Consider what you would like done with your multiple computer and online accounts. Determine whether your subscription services will share your password with a loved one – and whether you want them to do so. Ultimately, estate planning is about diligence and being prepared so that your family and friends have as little trouble as possible in handling your affairs. Consult with your attorney and decide what you want done with your “digital estate”.