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Protecting your online life, for the 'Digital Afterlife'

Posted at 10:00 PM, Jun 30, 2016

You can't take it with you when you go. But you can have your status updated.

From Facebook to Instagram, and emails to text messages, so many of the important moments of our lives are lived online. Now, thanks to new businesses and even a new Florida law, we live in an age where you can actually leave that digital property behind in a will. 

Welcome to the "Digital Afterlife." Dying is not what it used to be.

"You have to really open your eyes and think what could happen," Aubrie Smith says.  "Because there's just so much online these days."
 
Smith is like most of us. An ever growing part of her life is shared digitally.
 
"I have so much online," she says. "There so many of pictures of mine, so many memories."
 
One of her most cherished memories is her wedding last fall. That major life change, prompted her to start gathering important documents and other information, should the worst happen.
 
She reached out to Diana Uricchio for help. Uricchio owns a small business called OXO. In addition to all the paper documents, she encouraged Smith to write down all the user names and passwords for every one of her online accounts.
 
"Years ago, if your grandmother passed away, she may have had a will," Uricchio says.  "But at least if she planned or not, somebody was going to run across a chest of information and photos, and maybe an old wedding dress and beloved love letters. But now days, those things are being created and stored digitally."
 
Uricchio urges her customers to think about all the photos they have online, or even their cell phone. Without passwords, family members may not be able to access that material when the customer is gone.
 
Smith's digital footprint goes beyond pictures, she makes money off a Youtube channel. That money is paid digitally, into her Paypal Account, which her family may not be able to access without her password, if she dies.
 
OXO is one of the few companies based in Florida that deals with the "Digital Afterlife."
 
"Kind of mapping out where your digital life resides and understanding if these are areas you need to address, you need to backup, you need to share," Uricchio says.
 
Other online companies collect your account information, store it, and if you die or become incapacitated, they share it with the people you designate. 
 
Naples attorney, Travis Hayes, says there are some advantages to using those online companies, but at this point, he recommends staying away.
 
"These are being housed on a website on a server somewhere, and what if those get hacked? Then somebody has all your information," Hayes says.
 
At this point, Hayes says you're better off using a new Florida law. Passed this year, it basically allows you to leave access to your digital life, in your will.
 
"You could think of it as anything stored on a computer, smartphone or tablet, in a cloud or online," Hayes says.
 
The estate planning process in Florida now allows you to fill out a form, where you can will access to things like text messages and emails. In theory, you could even have someone update your Facebook status when you're gone. And the access is guaranteed by law.
 
Social media aside, the law is also helpful when it comes to online banking. Without access to a deceased family member's online accounts, automatic bill payments for things like Netflix or the gym, could continue to be pulled from their checking account.
 
"If someone is not aware of that, and monitoring it, that could continue to be paid and be a waste of the decedents assets," Hayes says.
 
He says there's one area where the law can't help you right now. Technically you don't own digital music or movies from sites like Apple or Amazon, you just license them, and that license expires when you die.
Hayes says Apple has turned over accounts to spouses in the past, but other family members may be out of luck. 
 
He says for everything else, treat your digital property, like your physical property. Because the law now considers them the same.