Online Asset Management before Death

What happens to Web assets when you die?

Many topics about death care cover tangible items such as hospice, health, burials and funerals. And, almost everyone concerned with a death also is concerned with wills and asset management. Tangible assets include homes, property and other things you can touch and see. But, what happens to a person’s Web assets when they die?The BBC touched on this subject in 2004, Forbes in 2006, and TechRadar picked it up in 2008. Another blogger touched on the subject of email last year as well. They all ask the questions, “What happens to all this Web stuff when you die?”

If you purchased domain names, Web hosting and other online “properties” such as memberships, then you have assets that may be worth money. If you own an online business, or if you have integrated an online presence with a bricks-and-mortar business, then you should take these assets into account. Don’t leave a mess for your loved ones, especially if your online information is private or worth some cash.

Things change over time, and these changes include laws that pertain to copyright, online information and access to that information if you do not own it. So, we’ve compiled a list that we hope will remain pertinent for a few years. If you own online assets and you follow the tips listed below, then your successors might appreciate you even more after death. Even better, this list might help you organize your life for better efficiency now:

  • The BBC article listed three Websites that might have helped folks with death care management back in 2004. However, only one of those three Web sites mentioned in that article remain viable today. If you want to use online mediums to account for your Web presence, you might also include actual paperwork in a will in case that Web site dies and takes your information with it.
  • The key word above is “will.” If you don’t have a will, make one now. And, if your online assets change over time, then you can either change your will or add a codicil, or supplement, to that will.
  • Name an executor and make sure that person has total access to your death documents, including online access (user names and passwords), once you die. Some sites may remain online forever until they are deleted. Other sites may shut down the site as soon as a monthly or weekly payment has not been met. It’s important to point to those latter sites so the executor can pay to attend to them immediately upon your death.
  • Pay attention to terms of service (TOS) for each site, hosting service or memberhips, as they may change. Additionally, you may learn that, even though your executor has your information, it may be illegal for that person to enter your site. When possible, print out the TOS and attach your user name and password to that TOS along with any special instructions. You can alter these items at any time, as long as you include them with your will and other death care documents.
  • Clean up your life…if you don’t want certain emails or documents read after your death, then why are you holding on to them? If it’s a matter of legal liability, then print them out, back them up on a disk, and forward them to an email address that will hold personal or sensitive items.
  • Social media sites, for all intents and purposes, are you – and few people will want those sites once you’re gone (unless you’re famous). With that said, if you have photographs, videos or other personal assets on those sites, then think about using other sites to hold that information. Then, your assets will be organized for easier handling once you’re gone.
  • You also can create a ‘plan of action’ for your social media sites if you die. In some cases, those sites contain many people you’d want to notify about your death. If legally possible, your executor can manage this plan.
  • In many cases, hosting services will eliminate your account upon your death unless an executor notifies that hosting service and transfers your domain within a year. This time frame barely provides enough time for probate and a sale or transfer, but it must be done if that Web site or blog needs to be maintained as part of a business or other venture.
  • If you want your online ‘goods’ such as photos, content and more, to be sold or transferred upon your death, then you might pick a beneficiary who will benefit from that sale or transfer. If you own an online business, think about finding someone who can carry on that business after you die.
  • In keeping with “keeping your ducks in a row,” you might include information about traffic, online income and other pertinent information about your sites so that your sites will be ready for sale when you die. You can learn more about what people want when they purchase a site at Sitepoint.com.
  • Finally, read the other articles mentioned above. Other than the viability of Web sites in those articles, the information is valuable. Some information is contradictory between articles, so that should give you a heads up that information does change over time. Use that information, this list and your knowledge and intuition to lead you down the path that’s right for you and your loved ones.

You may learn that your online assets are worth more than your tangible assets with this exercise. If so, seek the advice of a knowledgeable attorney to guide you through a legacy process. While professional advice may cost you some money on the front end, the money your successors may save (or make) could be worth your efforts.

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