For social media accounts, guidelines for handling digital assets after your...

For social media accounts, guidelines for handling digital assets after your death can vary. Credit: Getty Images/SpiffyJ

What happens to your digital assets when you die? That’s a question many people haven’t thought about. The ramifications can be huge.

“I had a client who regularly played an online lottery," says Jennifer Cona, managing partner of Genser Cona Elder Law in Melville. "He set it up to place bids months in advance. His numbers hit after he passed away, winning over $100,000. None of his heirs and family members knew the password to his account, so they could not claim the winnings on behalf of his estate. The money had to be forfeited.”

Here’s how to avoid leaving behind a cybercalamity.

Review terms of service

Make sure to read the terms of service for each digital service you use, since guidelines for handling digital assets after death or incapacity vary. Sometimes, estate planning documents (i.e., a power of attorney), can be used to access email. “In other instances, under no circumstances can a third party access email at death, because it becomes the property of the service provider," says John Martin, an estate planning attorney in Menlo Park, California. "In those extreme cases, only a court order can be used to access email at death.”

Know what you own

Write a list of all digital accounts and keep it current. “Many people don’t realize how many digital assets they have, or the importance of including them in a will,” says Jennifer Xia, co-CEO of FreeWill, a Manhattan-based company that offers free estate planning tools.

Protect your legacy

Document securely key accounts and passwords, and legally designate a digital executor. Being clear about your intentions makes it so much easier for your family.

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