Do you think about all the information you have stored online? Facebook, Pinterest, the family recipe file, family photos, the email account, or accounts with the names of everyone you connect with, the businesses you buy from, the blog you try to stay current with, the articles you have cut and pasted into documents to read “when you have time.” Shall we stop here or keep going? How about your bank and investment accounts, utility accounts, other financial records.
We are constantly encouraged to ‘go paperless’, which is actually a good environmental option, but what happens if you die unexpectedly and nothing is in place for your survivors directing them how to handle all of this. Most of us probably have a list of all our passwords, or a little notebook with passwords and account numbers and answers to secret questions (your mother’s maiden name is not a good answer, by the way).
Did you know that in most states it is illegal for anyone, even survivors, to access someone else’s accounts even if you told your next of kin that “it’s okay.” A Portland, Oregon, attorney, Victoria Blachly, has been working on a legal fix for this problem, by creating a VIRTUAL ASSET INSTRUCTION LETTER which will have you list your accounts, passwords and instructions regarding each one. Even with this document, however, there is still a 30 year old federal statute that makes it difficult for estate planners to work with clients. The federal statute is ambiguous and very outdated since it was created in 1986. And the same ambiguity exists with those “Terms of Service Agreements” that we just agree to without reading all the small print. This bill did not pass the Oregon legislature this session. There are 20 other states considering similar legislation.
In the meantime, it would be good to create one of these documents along with your advanced directive, power of attorney and your will. Here is a step-by-step guide to create a VAIL.
1. Identify each Internet account you have and determine how the company handles it when the account holder dies.
2. Determine which accounts you want your representative to maintain and prepare a written and electronic list of those accounts, your log-in information and your passwords so he or she can access them.
3. Determine which accounts you want your representative to delete and provide the necessary instructions he or she can follow so they can do that task as well.
4. Save these instructions on a CD or a memory stick and store it in a safe place. Tell your representative where these items can be found and what he or she needs to do to access them.
5. Download a copy of any pictures, online memorabilia or personal writings you think your loved ones might want from the Internet and save it on a drive or CD that you control. Tell your representative where this is and how to access it.
6. Update your power of attorney documents so they give your agent (the person who acts on your behalf) the authority to access your emails and other electronic information.
7. Include the names of any persons you want to handle your electronic information outside of your personal representative in your will and any other estate planning documents.
(Source: Victoria Blachly and the firm of Samuels, Yoelin and Kantor, Attorneys-at-Law)