In the last decade, digital platforms like Facebook and Twitter have exploded in popularity to the point where millions of people, both young and old, have accounts and regularly post and share information with one another. Other media like Google Drive and Dropbox allow allow anyone with an email address to set up an account and store and share information across the cloud with anyone the individual gives access to.
Just like with any other material assets, we need to plan for someone to take charge of managing these digital accounts for when we pass on. Fortunately for New York Residents, state law allows individuals to grant executors of their estate legal and practical powers to digital assets upon death. New York is one of several states which passed the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (RUFADAA) in the New York Consolidated Laws §13-A-1 through §13-A-5.2.
The RUFADDA defines “electronic communications” as a type of digital assets that requires stronger privacy protections as these are often private communications between one person and another. The law requires individuals give explicit consent for the executor of the estate to access these sensitive electronic communications, no matter how benign they may be. Whether these digital assets are simply an email or social media account, certain procedures must be followed to ensure quick and expedient access.
For starters, the individual allowing access must give explicit access to his or her accounts or else the executor will have to petition the probate court, known as a Surrogate Court in New York, to gain access to the accounts. The permissions to access your digital and online accounts may be very broad or narrowly defined, as is may not matter if certain information remains inaccessible to others.
However, even with explicit permission in a last will and testament, it still may be time consuming to ask every single provider for access to all of your digital assets. Executors have a wide range of responsibilities to deal with upon the testator’s passing and dealing with social media and email accounts may fall by the wayside.
To help expedite the process, you may want to do even more planning by creating a list of accounts and passwords to be made available to the executor upon your passing. The combination of explicit permission under the law and a list of user names, accounts, and passwords can help ensure all your digital assets remain in the hands of someone you know and trust. Like anything else in estate planning, planning and foresight go a long way to ensuring your loved ones focus on what is important upon your passing.