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Does creating a will automatically protect my online legacy?

Here in New York, the legal document that tells a court how you want your property and assets distributed is called a last will and testament. Up until very recently, it was fairly easy for the executor of a will to use a decedent's bank statements and unpaid bills as a kind of guideposts in order to track down many of the items identified in the will for distribution.

Modern technology such as the advent of the Internet and social media has now made the job of an executor much more difficult. That's because many people who create wills fail to include information regarding their online accounts. Today, the average person has at least an email account and most likely several social media accounts such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Unfortunately, many people today fail to include instructions regarding their Internet accounts when creating a will.

Good estate planning is all about creating a legacy that you can pass on to your heirs. For example, you may have unfinished manuscripts or valuable photographs online that should be preserved and distributed to others for your benefit as well as theirs.

One good way to accomplish that goal is to create a master list of all of your social media accounts, usernames and passwords as well as any other identifying information. Then, with the help of your New York estate planning attorney you can create a will and specify how you would like the property contained on those sites to be distributed upon your death. It's also a good idea to create a durable power of attorney in the event you become incapacitated.

It's important to know that even armed with a will or power of attorney, your heirs may still have difficulty accessing your accounts after you are gone. That's why you should consider including your attorney as your executor to help facilitate the access and distribution of your estate.

Source: The Columbus Dispatch, "Guide to Life: How to handle online accounts during estate planning" Hannah Yang, Mar. 14, 2015

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