According to a recent article in the New York Daily News, the modern New Yorker has one more thing to worry about when creating a Will. The proliferation of social media web sites like Facebook and Twitter, along with the abundance of e-mail and online transaction accounts, is creating a demand for will provisions tied to the administration of a deceased person’s web usage.
Even the federal government is acknowledging the phenomenon. As of April, the federal government’s official personal finance information page includes a recommendation that people leave detailed and specific instructions for the administrators of their Wills as to who will have access to their online accounts after they die. The federal government also urges people to update these Will instructions frequently so as to reflect changes in online usage. Many online accounts require users to change their passwords after a period of time. Other accounts are used less frequently, meaning their users are often forced to reset their passwords. Therefore, it is imperative to record these changes.
The need for such provisions in a Will may not be immediately apparent. However, if you are the type of person that utilizes online billing or online banking, you are typically the only person who can access these applications. Suppose you have opted to receive paperless billing via e-mail. If no one in your life is kept apprised of your e-mail password or billing account password, your executor or administrator may be unable to easily obtain information concerning something like the utilities in your home. Similarly, those who receive paperless credit card statements could accumulate significant interest charges on outstanding debts if their fiduciaries are unable to access the online account to obtain account information or pay the bill. Without a trusted individual empowered with the responsibility for these online accounts – and the login information to access them – a deceased person may unwittingly have imposed considerable confusion and financial strain on their estate.
On the social media front, accounts on sites like Facebook contain a wealth of personal information and private interactions that a deceased person may not want “floating” in cyberspace. Often without realizing it, living users employ a host of defensive measures to safeguard against other people’s access to this private information. However, a deceased’s unmaintained account can be significantly more susceptible to intrusion for identity fraud and other purposes. Modern Wills empower trusted individuals to access these accounts upon the user’s death and to either close the accounts or restrict them to memorial postings about the deceased. Facebook, for example, will deactivate the account of a deceased user upon request and replace it instead with a page to post memories.
If online accounts and social media are ingrained in your life to the point that the inability to access such accounts could potentially harm your beneficiaries, it may be prudent to consult a New York estate attorney. Your attorney can help determine whether such access could affect the administration of your estate, and can help craft and maintain a Will tailored to reflect these modern estate issues.
An experienced New York trusts and estates lawyer can assist with guidance for proper Will preparation and execution. New York Probate Attorney Jules Martin Haas, Esq. has been representing clients in Queens and Brooklyn and throughout New York State in Trusts and Estates matters and Surrogate’s Court proceedings for the past 30 years. If you or someone you know is involved with or has questions about a New York estate, please contact me at (212) 355-2575 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org, for an initial consultation.