You already know that your will and other testamentary instruments decide what happens to your property when you die, but what happens to everything that you’ve left online: social media accounts, email accounts, Amazon accounts, personal websites, and so on? This has been an open question in the law for some time, and one we have previously discussed, but the state of California has finally taken action in enacting legislation dictating how your digital assets and imprints should be treated upon your death.
AB 691 Explained
California’s Probate Code was amended by AB 691, signed into law by Governor Brown and set to take effect January 1, 2017, which governs the process by which online accounts and other digital assets should be handled upon their owner’s death. Previously, California had no law to deal with these issues, and survivors did not necessarily have the right to demand that Internet service providers such as Google or Facebook give them access to deceased family members’ accounts to either modify or delete digitally stored content.
Under AB 691, there are now three different set approaches that can be taken to deal with a deceased person’s digital assets, and they are set forth in descending priority:
- Instructions Provided in the Online Tool Itself: A user may designate a representative on the tool itself to make specific or discretionary changes to the digital contents contained within that tool. For example, Facebook can allow you to specify within your account which person should have the right to make changes to your profile upon your death, and you can leave directions on how that representative should carry out that responsibility. This designation will override any contrary direction left in a will or other legal document.
- Will, Power of Attorney, or Other Legal Device: If the user has left no specific instructions within the online tool itself, that person may direct a representative to handle their digital assets through a will, power of attorney, trust, or other record.
- Terms of Service Agreement: If there is no instruction left by the user for an online tool, and there is no will or other legal document specifying how digital assets should be handled, then the applicable service agreement with the online tool will control how the account should be handled upon a user’s death.
- Take Action to Protect Your Digital Legacy Now
Because your digital legacy will conceivably last indefinitely, potentially reflecting on you and your family for years to come, you should take action now to specify how that digital legacy should be handled after your death, and not let a service agreement that you likely did not read dictate how your social media accounts, email records, online photos, retail accounts, and any other digital records should be handled once you are gone.
The best way to take care of this issue is to name a digital executor as soon as possible, who will be tasked and trusted with handling these matters. At the Christopher B. Johnson Law Office, we have over 18 years of experience providing estate planning services to the people of Pasadena, and we are well-versed in handling the new estate planning needs of the modern digital age. If you have questions about naming a digital executor or other aspects of digital estate planning, we’re here to help. Contact us today to discuss your situation.