Can Your Digital Data Be Part of Your Estate Plan?


More of life happens online now than ever before. You save photos to the cloud, share memories on social media, and keep important documents in online cloud storage. But what happens to that data after you pass away? Can your digital data be part of your estate plan? Here’s how to include it, and the extra steps you will need to take to make sure the software companies honor your wishes.

Creating Your Digital Estate Plan

What do you want to have happen to your online profiles and digital data after you die? Who should have access to the online accounts, and who should get copies of your digital data? A digital estate plan answers all these questions. It is built into your estate planning documents – generally either a will or trust. After you pass away, it lays out what you want to happen to your digital assets. A complete digital estate plan will:

  • List all your digital accounts (social media, cloud storage, fitness tracking, photo albums)
  • Name one or more people you want to serve as your digital custodian
  • Give those people directions to find your passwords
  • Authorize them to use your digital identity so there are no claims of fraud or identity theft

Unlike financial accounts, real estate, and tangible personal property, Michigan’s laws do not automatically give an executor or personal representative the power to access or control a deceased person’s digital data.  Instead, under the Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act, each user has the right to allow or deny their digital custodian access to each online tool, up to the limits set by the program.

This may sound like more work, but it can allow you to tailor your digital data estate plan to prevent a loved one from receiving an unwanted surprise when accessing certain online storage. Just because you want your children to have access to their childhood photos doesn’t necessarily mean you want them scrolling through all your online files.

How to Authorize Digital Custodians’ Access to Your Online Data

Because cyber-security is so important, many of the largest software companies require more than just a notarized will to access your records. Many have their own forms or processes that you must fill out to give access to a specific person after you pass away.

iPhone and iCloud Digital Data

If you are an Apple user, you will need to assign a Legacy Contact. After your death, your Legacy Contact will need both a unique Access Key (which you should include in your digital data estate plan), and a death certificate, verified by Apple, to access your data. Once that verification is done, your Legacy Contact will have access to:

  • iCloud Photos
  • Notes
  • Emails
  • Reminders
  • Health data
  • Online backups

However, they won’t be able to access your payment information or Keychain (for usernames and passwords). Follow these instructions to assign your Legacy Contact.

Google Inactive Account Manager

Google (which includes YouTube) has an even more robust system for assigning access rights to your digital data after your death. Using their Inactive Account Manager, you can set:

  • How long Google should wait before making your account inactive
  • How Google should notify you when your account is deactivated
  • Who should be notify if your account hasn’t been used
  • Which apps (including your email, Drive storage, calendar, and contacts) they should have access to
  • An autoreply message for anyone who emails the inactive account
  • Whether to delete your account after 3 months of inactivity

Social Media Accounts

Social media is constantly evolving, so no list of how to set your digital preferences will be complete.

  • Facebook (including Instagram) has Memorialization Settings that give a chosen person access to your account after your death.
  • Twitter requires your digital custodian to complete an online request to receive instructions on verifying your death and their identity.
  • LinkedIn has an online form to request removal of the deceased’s profile
  • Pinterest requires your digital custodian to email it to deactivate the account
  • TikTok requires a password and only allows the custodian to deactivate the account completely

At Thacker Sleight, our experienced and empathetic estate planning attorneys understand what it takes to preserve and protect your digital assets. We’ll help you prepare a digital estate plan and complete the necessary forms and processes to authorize your digital custodian’s access to your online accounts. Contact us at (616) 300-2367 to schedule a consultation.

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