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Incorporating Digital Assets Into Your Estate Plan

Do you know who will manage your Facebook page after you die?
Last month, Facebook announced that it will allow users to designate someone to manage their account after they die.  Previously, Facebook “memorialized” the accounts of users who passed away, which meant that the users' pages could be viewed but not edited or managed.  Now, if you are one of Facebook’s approximate 186 million users, you can select a “legacy contact”—a friend or family member that will be able to make one last post for you.  If you don’t want a legacy contact, you can also direct Facebook to delete the account permanently.
Selecting a legacy contact not only preserves your page after you die, but it may also help prevent against identity theft.  Media outlets, including The Daily Mail and The Huffington Post, have previously reported on the case of Julie Chambers, a British woman who discovered a fraudulent Facebook page in her daughter’s name.  The daughter, Zoe, had died at the age of two, following heart surgery. 
After Zoe passed away, thieves created the Facebook page, which included pictures of Julie and Zoe and the details about Zoe’s heart condition.  The thieves used the fraudulent Facebook page to solicit donations, via a PayPal account linked to the page, for a supposed heart transplant for Zoe.  When Julie Chambers contacted police about the page, she was told that she had no legal recourse since the thieves did not actually defraud her of any money.
To preserve your legacy, protect assets for the beneficiaries of your estate, and prevent against identity theft, discuss the status of your online accounts and passwords with your estate attorney.  You should consider compiling a list of all digital assets for your estate plan.  Although you may not realize it, you probably have a significant number of assets in the digital realm.  For example, if you have family photos or documents stored via a cloud service, such as Dropbox, you likely will want your family to access those materials after you pass.
If you have questions about incorporating your online accounts and passwords into your estate or about preventing online identity theft, contact a member of MacDonald Illig’s Trusts and Estates or Emerging Technologies Practice Groups.
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