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Business Insight: Protect your assets to stop an online hereafter

Take steps now to protect yourself, your heirs

By Dawn House

| The Salt Lake Tribune

First Published Sep 16 2013 07:56 am • Last Updated Sep 16 2013 09:27 pm

Hillel Presser, coauthor of "Financial Self-Defense: How to Protect Everything You Own...From Everyone...Everytime," says now you can live forever on the Internet, but that’s not necessarily a good thing.

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What accounts do we have to worry about to protect our families after our deaths?

Many of your online accounts – from automatic bill payments to eBay – may remain active after you pass away, unless you take steps to ensure they don’t. Automatic bill pay, for example, can theoretically keep tapping your bank account long after you’re gone or, at least, until your money is. It’s important to make sure your online bank and shopping accounts, even your social media, can be closed out, or that your loved ones are authorized to access them. You may ask, "Why would I care if I’m gone?" I can tell you from experience: Because it can create real headaches, and more heartache, for your family. Bank and shopping accounts will be vulnerable to identity theft, which would affect your estate if someone opens credit cards in your name. You might have valuable intellectual property, like domain names. They may need access to your health records, particularly if you died under questionable circumstances. There’s the sentimental stuff – photos and emails — that your family may want as a remembrance of you, and the libraries of music and ebooks, which may represent a considerable investment on your part.

What steps do we need to take to close out those online accounts?

First, find a program that keeps all of your digital media passwords in one area. There are many programs and services popping up that manage your digital life for you. One such program is Legacy Locker. It seems to be one of the first services offered and can be used for transferring access to digital assets, including e-mail, social media and blogging accounts, to trusted sources. There are other ones out there like this — but to determine the best one for you, you will have to do proper research. Second, appoint a digital executor or let your regular estate executor know of your digital media and give them instructions on how to take care of the accounts upon your death.

Why isn’t it enough to give our families account information and passwords?

Family members may not carry out your wishes or they could be too distraught to take care of the digital media. It’s important to choose a neutral person to be the digital executor or person who takes care that your online accounts are closed upon your death. The problem is, even if you provide a family member with all of your accounts, log-ins and passwords, they may not be legally allowed to access them. In many cases, they may be violating the accounts’ terms of service or violating federal privacy and computer fraud laws. Some states have laws governing online materials, but they’re different and which of your accounts are covered depends on where the provider is located.

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Explain how to appoint digital executor and why that’s important.

Appointing a digital executor is the same as appointing an executor for your will. You will have to choose a person and then draft an agreement that would provide them with instructions for carrying out your digital estate. Sometimes, having a separate digital executor may not be practical. This role should be concurrently given to the executor or personal representative of an estate. However, it is very important to inventory your digital media and makes sure someone has copies of all passwords and security questions so as to be able to log into your account after your death and either stop bill payments, or even close down social media accounts.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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