Digital Assets After Death

While the digital age has led to many advancements and positive resources for the cancer community, it has also created some additional things to think about, such as disclosure and privacy concerns. The accounts that we create online are also something that we own; they are part of our “assets.” When someone passes away, what happens to the digital footprint they’ve left behind? Their Email, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and more are still considered “active,” which raises the question: what steps can you take to protect and pass on your digital assets after death? 


Cancer Rights Law, a book written by Triage Cancer founders Joanna Fawzy Morales and Monica Fawzy Bryant that centers around cancer-related legal issues, covers an entire chapter on Estate Planning and includes protecting your digital assets. Get started by following the guidelines below:


First, keep a list of your online accounts and any information stored online. “The process of creating a digital estate plan is similar to that of creating a will. Individuals should start by collecting information about what they own. That may include:

  • Information or data that is stored electronically (e.g., in the cloud, on a thumb drive, etc.)
  • Online accounts, such as email, digital voicemail, social media, shopping, photo and video sharing, music, video gaming, online storage, travel and shopping rewards, etc.
  • Domain names, blogs, and websites owned
  • Intellectual property (e.g., copyrighted materials, trademarks, etc.).“

This is information that can be included in a will, so that it can be given to the person who handles your estate. This person is called your executor. 


Secondly, list the account login and password information for your online accounts. “There are password managing services with a master password that can be shared, or the information can simply be written down in a safe place, accessible to the executor of the estate.  Executors should also be made aware of an individual’s wishes about how each asset should be handled. For example, should accounts be closed, how should any monetary value be dealt with (e.g., rewards that can be turned in for merchandise), or if assets will continue to generate income (e.g., a copyrighted song) who will receive that income.“


Finally, it’s important to go through each social platform’s terms of service, as they all can be different. “For example, Facebook and Instagram gives users the option to elect whether they’d like their account to be memorialized or permanently deleted from Facebook when they die. Memorialized accounts will allow a user’s friends to continue posting, and all of the existing content remains. Facebook also allows users to name a “legacy contact” who is authorized to manage the account after the user dies. Upon the user’s death the legacy contact should complete the online form and submit a death certificate. Twitter and LinkedIn require that the user’s agent notify the platform of the death and request that the account be deactivated. Various email platforms also have procedures to deal with an individual’s accounts after their death. “


Are there laws that allow executors to manage digital assets and electronic communications?


According to the New York State Bar Association, in 2016, the New York legislature, enacted a law to allow fiduciaries to manage a person’s digital assets, similar to the way they manage a person’s more tangible assets after death. It also applies to fiduciaries of an incapacitated person, an agent acting pursuant to a power of attorney and a trustee, regardless of whether the appointment was before, on or after the effective date of the legislation. Since 2013, 46 states have passed laws about digital assets after death. 


What other resources are available for protecting our digital assets?

·       Triage Cancer’s Estate Planning Resources provide more information you need.

·       You can visit Triage Cancer’s state laws page to see if your state has updated laws regarding digital assets and/or estate planning. 

·       Cancer Rights Law, written by Triage Cancer founders Joanna Morales Fawzy and Monica Bryant Fawzy, has sections on Estate Planning and the Digital Afterlife that you might find useful. This book is sold by the American Bar Association, and Triage Cancer offers a discount code here.


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