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Putting Your Digital Affairs in Order

We conduct so much of our lives online these days, but did you ever stop to think about what will happen to that online life after you are not around? Do you store important documents or other materials on your computer or in the cloud that would need to be forwarded to the right person in the event of your unexpected death? Is there sensitive or embarrassing material in your email or on your phone that you would prefer to be kept private? What about those digital assets that have real value? What would happen to those?

These questions are of the kind that many of us avoid thinking about. But, let's face it. None of us are getting younger, and it's better to face these problems now rather than wait until they are sorted out for us, and perhaps not in the way we would have wanted. There are a number of things that can be done to make sure everything is put in the right place even after you are no longer here to administer them.

Naming digital heirs

It has been possible since early this year for you to designate a "legacy contact" for Facebook. The legacy contact would have access to your account in the event of death. They would also be able to manage some aspects of the page, such as answering friend requests and changing the status. Some parts of the account, such as personal messages, would remain frozen.

This comes as a welcome option for many, as Facebook's previous policy was to simply freeze the accounts of deceased users. The former policy did in fact allow for complicated problems. Many family members have fought unsuccessfully for access to late loved ones accounts. And it's not just Facebook. One Minnesota family found this out when their son, Jake Anderson, a college student, died mysteriously on his way home from a party. The death was ruled accidental, but the parents wanted answers. They thought that his texts from that night might shed some light on what happened. They were surprised to find out that in Minnesota, they would not be able to access his password protected phone without a search warrant.

There are many stories like this, and they underline the need to consider the unexpected. And there is quite a bit to consider. Digital assets are not limited to social media accounts and text messages. Blogs, data stored in the cloud such as photos and scanned documents could also be unavailable to family after death if no action is taken. Google has introduced a tool called the Inactive Account Manager, which lets you decide what is done with your digital assets on their varied services, including Google+, Gmail, Youtube, Picassa, etc.

While more companies are likely to revise their policies as this conundrum becomes more and more common, it may be difficult to individually change the settings individually on all the accounts that hold your digital assets. Another solution is to make a digital will. The first order of business would be to take careful stock of all your digital assets along with details such as passwords. Once you have figured out how you would like these handled, you should seek out the expertise of professionals who will be able to help you to make a plan that can be added to your Will.

Virtual currencies

But this is not just about privacy and making sure your Facebook page turns into a tasteful memorial in the right hands. Some virtual assets are worth real money. For example, virtual currencies are increasing in number and type. There are a number of them, but Bitcoin is the one most in the news of late. As technology how we communicate and do business, our legal professionals are forced to adapt to the changing world.

Virtual currencies do have some things in common with other intangible assets such as copyrights. But there are a number of differences, too, which can make transfer upon death more complicated. Bitcoin was designed to preserve anonymity. And if you own such digital currency and fail to inform family members or the executor, Bitcoins could very easily be overlooked. Nobody would know they exist. Still, even if they did know about them, the "wallets" in which they are kept are very secure and largely run by companies outside of the US. It's hardly likely that there will be someone to aid you as there would be at, say, a bank. Even then, the operator probably wouldn't have security information necessary to give another party access to the virtual currency.

Again, many have learned of this the hard way. A Colorado man recently disappeared, leaving behind $100,000 in virtual currency. Unfortunately for the family, he had neglected to leave them the information that would give them access to the wallet. They were never able to recover the money.

Besides this, there are a number of other things to consider, such as capital gains and income taxes. In reality, all the wrinkles pertaining to digital assets have not yet been worked out. The best advice one can take when it comes to planning for your digital demise is to seek out the aid of professionals who will know how to make sure that everything in your name is seen to according to your wishes.

There are a number of services that will do everything from storing your passwords to sending posthumous emails from your account. However, even these services are relatively untested, and should not be confused with an advisor or a firm that has experience in handling estates. Consulting with the proper professionals to come up with a comprehensive plan forall of your assets is the only way to make sure that your online presence does not simply disappear, or worse, is mishandled.

In addition to making sure your passwords are saved and can be made available to those who will need them, as they are most likely only known by you, it's advisable to make sure that all your relatives are known as well. To accomplish this, the wisest thing you can do is use a professional forensic genealogical service.