Online Services Offer Estate Planning for Digital Assets

 

Once upon a time, when life was less complicated, the key
to a safe deposit box was all loved ones needed to gain access to important
documents and accounts following a death. Today, many aspects of our lives —
both financial and personal — are lived in places accessible only by
password. We have e-mail addresses, Facebook and MySpace profiles, and
accounts with PayPal, eBay, and online brokerages and banks. In addition,
many people communicate regularly with people they know only through game or
social networking sites.

When a person dies, access to these accounts and contacts
can be lost or extremely difficult to retrieve. As a result, a small online
industry has sprung up to help people pass on the digital keys to their
online lives should they die or become disabled. Call it "digital estate
planning" or creating a "virtual executor."

On a typical site, users sign up and pay an annual fee to
upload everything from crucial online passwords to gym locker combinations
into a private account. Upon the user's death or disability, the individuals
they have designated to receive this private information are notified about
how to open the account and access the information. These people may also
receive final wishes and a farewell e-mail from the deceased. Some sites even
allow users to store estate planning documents like wills and advance
directives.

For example, AssetLock
(formerly YouDeparted.com) offers a "secure safe deposit box" to
hold such things as digital copies of important documents, final messages for
family and friends, passwords, hidden accounts, and lock combinations. Once a
minimum number (set by the owner) of recipients sign in and confirm the
owner's death, the account is unlocked after a time delay (which also can be
set by the owner). Similar services are offered by Deathswitch, LegacyLocker and Slightly Morbid

Other services focus on assisting people in sending
important messages to loved ones. GreatGoodbye
allows users to store e-mails, photos and videos that will be sent to
those closest to them in the event of their confirmed death. Similar services
are offered by EternityMessage
and Last Post.

You can read more about these services in articles in USA Today, PCWorld and the Everyday Estate Planning Blog.

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