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Online accounts and estate planning

People who are working on an estate plan might think primarily about who they want to pass assets on to. However, increasingly, there is another important area that they need to consider, and that is their life online. While Facebook, Google and other online companies refer to federal privacy laws and say these prevent them from allowing family members to access a person's accounts on their death, some states have begun to pass laws dealing with terminating these accounts, and Nevada is one of them.

However, many experts still urge people to make more detailed plans about who can access their accounts and what information they can get. The new laws do not always allow loved ones to take possession of mementos such as photos and email. In some cases, people have even gone to court and been unsuccessful or only partly successful.

For example, one family has been unable to get emails from Yahoo from a deceased relative although they have tried since 2006. Facebook provided a CD to the family of a 15-year-old who committed suicide but not the password while it denied the subpoena of another family. Both Facebook and Gmail do provide options for users to select someone to manage the account in the event of their death.

People who are creating an estate plan might want to discuss their options for online and offline planning with an attorney. For example, in addition to choosing someone to manage their online accounts, they might also want to select someone to handle their financial affairs in case they become incapacitated. Someone can also be appointed to deal with health care matters in such a scenario. This can be the same person who is the executor of a will or it can be someone different.

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