In March 2016, Wisconsin enacted the Wisconsin Digital Property Act to help residents address the issue of transferring control of digital accounts to a beneficiary in the event that the account holder becomes incapacitated or dies. This law provides options for you to dictate in your will, power of attorney and trust documents whether or not you want someone else to have access to your digital property and accounts.
Steps to Consider:
- Check if the provider offers an online tool for designating a beneficiary on (or denying access to) your digital account and property. For example, in 2015 Facebook began allowing users to establish a “Legacy Contact” on accounts. If any of your online accounts are more than a year or two old, these options may have been added recently, so be sure to check.
- Use your power of attorney form, will, or trust documents to address access to your digital property and accounts. You can either specifically grant or deny access in these documents. Incorporating a specific provision regarding digital property and accounts in your legal documents will override a provider’s terms of service provisions if they are contrary to what is designated in your personally executed documents.
Using the methods above, the provider is required to allow (or deny) full access to the content of your communications. In addition, a court may also authorize someone else to obtain access to your digital communications and property.
What Happens If I Do Nothing?
If you do not specifically designate someone to gain control in the event of your death or incapacitation, the new law requires the provider to deliver limited records to your personal representative, trustee, guardian or attorney-in-fact upon a qualified request. This includes only a listing of your digital communications which you either received or sent but not the content of the communication. (Please note: attorney-in-fact granted through Power of Attorney documents ceases upon death of the grantor).
Why Can’t I Just Leave a List of My Usernames and Passwords?
It would not only be a challenge to keep a list of usernames and passwords current, but doing so could leave you open to being a victim of computer fraud or identity theft, so using this method is not recommended.
The new law has made it easier for you to handle access to your digital pictures, emails, files and documents stored online or in the cloud. If you want someone else to be able to access your digital accounts and property, we would be happy to help you take the steps needed so your data and information is handled appropriately.
Authored by Kathleen A. Brost, Trust and Financial Advisor.