Just a decade ago, New Yorkers likely did not have to deal with their loved ones' social media accounts when they died. However, nowadays, many people have virtual lives, and it is important for executors to know what to do with these accounts, as part of their estate administration tasks.
Where it gets tricky is that online lives may not be limited to just social media. Many people bank online and pay credit cards and other bills online. Ideally, a person would have information such as websites, user names and passwords shared with the executor or estate planner, along with instructions. For example, should the account be closed? In the case of social media, should the site be deleted?
Better yet, the information should be included in a will, where it will stay safe. Having personal information left out in the open can increase the risk of identity theft. In addition, any digital assets that are of personal value, such as photos, should be backed up on a CD or flash drive.
It is important for executors to understand legal issues surrounding the management of online accounts after a person's death. The law is fuzzy, but it is technically considered a crime to log into a person's accounts and pose as another person. It is important to keep the person's final wishes in mind, as long as it is legal.
Many people have some sort of digital asset that must be dealt with upon death. Even blogs, websites, eBay businesses or photos posted online would need to be handled. In some cases, credit card statements or retirement portfolios are only accessible online, which means listing these accounts is critical. Without a paper trail, nobody will be aware of their existence, which can cause legal issues down the road.
Source: The Star-Ledger, "How to protect your digital life with estate plans," March 2, 2013