Amid the Covid-19 emergency, many families were faced with the challenge of what to do a about the Facebook or Instagram accounts owned by a decedent. Let’s face it, when a person dies their social media accounts often have valuable assets like digital wallets with linked bank accounts and photo albums that a family will want removed from the site. In 2015, the federal Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (RUFADAA) modified rules for managing social media and other identifying accounts after someone has passed. With RUFADAA, an attorney-in-fact, executor, trustee, or family member can access to social media accounts already been transferred to an estate. However, this requires that advance directive must already be in place to authorize access to those digital assets. Planned giving specialists involved in estate transfer of assets to a nonprofit giving strategy will want to read on to find out more about this topic.
The proliferation of personal accounts across digital assets is part of the scope of RUFADAA’s legislative concern. Indeed, online accounts connect users with financial transactions and other value not easily decoupled without an authorized user after a person dies. Social media accounts link families to financial assets like Bitcoin accounts. Third-party involvement in the transfer of those accounts requires account owner agreement by law. Fiduciary access to financial accounts for transfer after an account owner has died, requires institutional advance directive giving control of the account for the disposition of those assets to an estate or family member. Some sites offer users a tool for establishing this legal relationship. For instance, Facebook permits account owners the right to designate an authorized user to manage or close a profile once they are deceased. The question is, what to do about account sites that do not?
It could be effectively said the digital revolution has touched every part of our lives. The truth is social media and other individual user accounts are part of our everyday existence correspondent to all aspects of professional, political, and personal interaction. The many commercial and social media sites a single person may sign up for during their lifetime is now conceivably too many to account for after the owner is gone. Thanks to RUFADAA, ownership of financial digital assets can now be transferred with the assistance of a fiduciary. Those funds along with social media assets such as family photo albums posted during one’s lifetime, can be transferred to an estate for beneficiaries in perpetuity. RUFADAA enables an estate to own and protect digital assets, including their future footprint. By designating an authorized user responsible for administration of a personal account in advance, an estate or trust can better manage those assets.
With the introduction of U.S. federal “Net Neutrality” rules, digital assets can now also be potentially removed from a website with the assistance of an ISP provider. Net neutrality rules guiding ISP control over internet use preempt website ownership of data transmission. Site service-agreements may include “authorized user” rules, and stipulated terms and conditions for access to usernames and passwords, and account data management, distribution, deletion, copy, or closure. This means that website administration and contractual control over the disposition of digital assets at the consumer level, is also subject to regulatory conditions for compliant use of the internet. In circumstances where it has been proven there is a lapse in net neutrality, an account and its data could be eliminated by an ISP service provider.
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Closure of online accounts when a loved one dies requires advance designation of a fiduciary or third-party authorized user to administer transfer of digital assets to an estate.
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