Whether one lives in New Jersey or near the Pacific Coast, estate planning are things that are worthy of consideration. A new facet of estate planning is deciphering what will happen to online accounts and email if one dies or becomes incapacitated.
Email accounts that sometimes receive or contain important financial and legal information cannot be accessed by someone without a password. Google has a plan that allows account holders to designate a person who can access email if the account holder is no longer able to do so because of death or incapacity. A durable power-of-attorney form can allow heirs authority to legally access accounts. Another option is to tell these passwords to heirs now or tell them where the passwords can be found. Of course, shared passwords between accounts will make the latter option easier for heirs to execute. Some say sharing a password in this manner and the subsequent reading of emails is a violation of privacy laws; however, email providers are not keeping track of which customers have passed away recently. Cracking the password is a last resort that heirs may turn to. This feat is often not easily accomplished.
One such story has been in the news recently. A man was hit and killed by an automobile in 2006; his brother and sister have been trying to obtain legal access to his Yahoo! account since then. So far, the case has not succeeded, but it is being sent back to a different court.
Writing a will and planning one’s estate can be difficult due to changes in technology that the law has yet to catch up to. An estate planning attorney may have experience where missing passwords to online accounts led to a lengthy time in the probate process. With careful planning, an estate lawyer can avoid a long delay for heirs receiving their inheritance.
Source: Forbes, “When Heirs Must Battle For Access To E-mail Accounts“, Deborah L. Jacobs, December 11, 2013