Let’s say you have lost a loved one due to an accident from the negligence or wrongful act of another, and now you have filed a wrongful death suit. At this moment, you have many things to do during a very emotional and stressful time. You must deal with concerns about how to make up for lost income, funeral expenses or medical bills from your loved one's final days. But, what you may not be considering is your loved one’s online identity and they likely never did either.Unfortunately, each day the identities of the recently deceased are stolen. And with the rapid integration of the Internet and social media into our daily lives, that makes identity theft an even easier task for tech-savvy thieves. If you and/or your loved ones have social media profiles set up online, you should consider creating a statement, a digital will of sorts, of how you would like your online identity to be handled. This will ensure that your identity and personal information can be removed or secured as you wish in the event of your death.
Wrongful death cases usually occur when an individual dies suddenly. Therefore, if your loved one has at some point created a digital will, it would make protecting their online identity an easier task for you and your family. Hupy and Abraham strongly suggests that anyone who keeps information online take some action to secure their online identity. Just as a traditional will helps your friends and family handle your physical belongings, a digital will explains how you want your online banking accounts, personal memories like photos and subscriptions, and social media identity to be handled.
3 things to consider when creating a digital will:
- Prepare a statement of how you would like your online identity to be handled. You may want to completely cancel your profiles or keep them up for friends and family to use or visit. Designate someone you trust as an online executor. This person would be responsible for closing all email addresses, online accounts (online banking or digital services such as Netflix or Amazon which may contain credit card info or auto-pay options), social media profiles and blogs after death.
- Check to see if these online platforms have account management features that allow users to pre-emptively manage what will happen to accounts after death. For example, Google’s Inactive Account Manager allows one to manage their online content to be saved or deleted. Facebook now has a legacy feature that allows you to designate someone to deactivate or memorialize your page.
- Review the terms and conditions and personal settings of all social media and digital storage websites commonly used. Many online service providers have rules regarding who can access accounts after death. To assist your online executor, provide them with your login information for various sites. However, never include a list of passwords within your will, as it is public record once probated (when the estate has been distributed.)