Last Updated November 4, 2017: Estate Administration in a Digital Age.
From our “Ask a Question” mailbag: How are things changing for Estate Administration in a Digital Age?
Time Are Changing: Estate Administration in a Digital Age.
Today, people utilize the Internet and social media more than ever before, raising new issues for estate administration. Many people receive bank, credit card, and utility statements electronically, and practically everyone has a Facebook account. Electronic mail and Facebook may hold relevant information for a personal representative seeking to administer an estate. Obtaining access to that information, however, is a brand new area in probate law.
For example, many people no longer have address books and instead, use Facebook to stay in contact with friends and family. So, at your death getting word to your friends might prove impossible if we cannot access your Facebook account.
Your Privacy While Alive vs. Making Things Easy on Your Executor.
In some cases, the personal representative may know the password to the decedent’s email, Facebook, and Twitter accounts. In these instances, accessing bills and statements as they come in is relatively easy. Have you provided your representative authorization to access these accounts? In situations where the personal representative does not know the password, how can they obtain it?
After death, only your Personal Representative has legal authorization to access your email and social media accounts. Of course, knowing the decedent’s password makes accessing email accounts relatively easy. If the personal representative knows the password, he or she can log in to the decedent’s account, obtain the information necessary to administer the estate (such as bank and credit card statements), and just delete the account when the administration is complete.
Getting Electronic Passwords After Death.
Accessing email accounts without knowing the password involves a few more steps. The personal representative should contact the decedent’s email provider to obtain the password. To ensure privacy, email providers require that the personal representative provide his or her contact information, a certified copy of the death certificate. In Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York or Florida the funeral director provides the death certificate. But it may also be obtained from the Department of Vital Statistics by ordering online or in person.
You will also need an original short certificate. A short certificate is an abbreviated form provided to the Executor, Personal Representative or Administrator. In Pennsylvania, obtain this form from the Register of Wills. In New Jersey, New York, and Florida obtain this form from the Surrogate.
You Can Plan With Some Services.
Facebook and Twitter have slightly different options than merely accessing a decedent’s account. Facebook offers the opportunity of “memorializing” a decedent’s account. This keeps the profile active but removes some personal information. It denotes the user deceased. Some family members prefer this option as a way of keeping in touch with the decedent’s friends and loved ones, as well as offering a place for the decedent’s friends to post messages or memorials to the deceased. This is the easiest option for informing Facebook of death.
Shutting down Facebook or Twitter profiles is more complicated. Facebook and Twitter require the personal representative contact their customer service department, and locating this information are not easy. Once the personal representative establishes this information, Facebook and Twitter need the personal representative’s contact information, a copy of their driver’s license, a certified copy of the death certificate, and a short certificate.vvFacebook’s or Twitter’s headquarters must receive this information for processing. Such requests can take weeks or months to process.
Take Steps to Make Your Executor’s Job Easier.
Due to the increased importance of email and social media, consider informing your nominated personal representative about your electronic statements, bills, or automatic deductions. Having this information will make the estate administration much more manageable.
One option that our firm provides our clients is the ability to add these passwords to his or her personal Summary, which includes the location of all assets and contact information for key people. This Summary provides the personal representative with the information that makes their task much more manageable, less time consuming and less expensive.
Throughout our website, klenklaw.com, you may find more information about estate planning issues, probate issues, and many other estate planning tools.
Our firm focuses exclusively in the area of estate planning, probate, and the litigation surrounding estate planning and probate including Will Contests and Will Challenges. If you have an estate planning question, please call one of our Experienced Estate Planning Lawyers for a free consultation.
For more information, read my article about the Probate Process.
Estate Administration in a Digital Age.
In conclusion, in this Post, I tried to explain some of the new issues of “Estate Administration in a Digital Age.” So, let me know how I did. Comments and questions are welcome!
If you have further questions about the Probate Process or any other questions about Probate, feel free to contact our office for a free consultation with one of our Philadelphia Probate Lawyers
Wills, Trusts, Probate, and Estate Litigation It’s All We Do!
Author, Peter Klenk, Esq.