What happens to your Blog after your death?

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By Roberta M. Gubbins

Legal News

'The Internet is a fun way to share information," said Patricia E. Kefalas Dudek, "Twitter and Facebook are growing exponentially. People are using them both personally and professionally," but a problem arises when the user dies or becomes disabled.

Who can access the accounts and what can they do with them?

Dudek suggested answers to those questions to the members of the ICBA probate section at their meeting on April 17th.

To date Michigan has no statute dealing with these matters leaving the solution to the problem to the individual or the provider. Only Oklahoma and Idaho have passed laws dealing with the matter and Nebraska is considering a statute.

What is your digital legacy?

Your digital legacy, Dudek explained, includes items on the Internet such as pictures, communications (e-mail), social media and online profiles, finances such as banking, Quicken or QuickBooks, online store accounts, digital media, iTunes, Amazon, fantasy sports, on-line poker and so forth.

"These are all good things, but how do you save all this?"

The first step is to create an inventory of your online assets, which includes personal and professional digital information from your computer, other devices and the 'virtual world' such as the Internet or a cloud. The inventory should contain the name and contents of the asset, its location, username and password, and instructions for its disposal and the recipient.

What happens to personal cyberspace pages after death?

If no instructions are left and there is no law, the distribution is left to the provider of the pages.

For example:

Facebook memorializes the account. The profile is kept on Facebook but only friends and family can look at pictures or write on the user's Wall in remembrance. They close the account if requested by the next of kin.

Twitter helps family members recover public Tweets from the account. They will not hand over access to the account or share any non-public information related to the account to an unauthorized person.

Linkedin may memorialize an account and restrict profile access or close an account if they receive a formal request to do so.

Other posthumous options--There are online memorial sites such as Online-Legacy.com or MyWonderfulLife.com. Greatgoodbye.com sends an email, previously written by you or by your executor upon notice of a death.

"How do we avoid the headaches," she asked. "Give those we trust our passwords, maintain your inventory or use online storage. There are password keepers such as Robo Form.com or Sticky Password. com to store your passwords. DataInherit.com, from Switzerland, is a 'highly secure online storage for passwords and documents.'"

If there is no plan in place there are sites such as DigitalEstateServices.com or compforensics.com that help survivors get into locked computers to archive the contents and gain usernames and passwords.

Where do you put your intent?

Put your information in powers of attorney, last will and testament or revocable living trust. "There are sites that will release your digital content either due to lack of response, after the passage of time or a response from your identified digital executors. For example, DeadMansSwithch.net will release your information if you fail to respond to three emails in a row."

There are some websites that have breaking news on the subject of protecting your digital assets such as thedigital beyond.com, yourdigital afterlife.com or @onlinememorials (twitter). "I like the book, Your Digital Afterlife, which is kept up to date on Twitter."

In answer to questions:

In relation to a trust, "I have a separate assignment of digital assets and I state what goes into the trust and what is assigned to someone else. "

"I also have separate powers of attorney for digital assets."

If there is a law in Michigan, what do you think it should say?

"I think it is a property right, which is assignable, irrespective of the what the language of the provider says. It's like your personal stuff and if you write a memorandum and say where it goes, they have to honor that, otherwise the terms of the agreement control."

Asked to compare with the intellectual property right, she said, "the problem is when you post it you have allowed access to everyone and the issue is how do you terminate that access?"

Concluding the discussion, she said, the problem is getting yourself and your clients to keep the information up to date.

Patricia E. Kefalas Dudek graduated from Michigan State University and Detroit College of Law. Her practice specializes in elder law, Medicaid, estate planning, probate and trust administration and disability advocacy. She can be reached at 248-254-3462 or pdudek@ pekdadvocacy.com.

Published: Mon, Apr 23, 2012