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Planning for Access to Digital Accounts

As society is becoming more and more digitized, there is an increased need for individuals to consider their online accounts in their estate planning. Today, computers and cellphones can store a wealth of important information about an individual through applications such as Facebook, Twitter and online banking websites. Furthermore, there are many other online platforms such as online gaming websites that individuals can win money or put real money into.

In January 2016, CBC profiled a widow, Peggy Bush, in Canada who had lost her spouse, and a setback in dealing with his property was access to his Apple account. We previously wrote a blog post surrounding this case and online password access here. In Canada, there is currently no legislation or case law that deals with access to online accounts after the account holder is deceased.

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To expand further on the accessibility of accounts, it is important to focus on the profitability of such accounts. With the expansive opportunity to play poker online, and put money into things such as betting websites, an issue may be raised in regard to who gets access to those funds upon death. While one may be able to make a small fortune in online activity, there is the chance it may be forgotten in the process of estate planning. This argument can go one step further. With the new craze surrounding games such as World of Warcraft or Pokemon Go, accounts have been selling on websites such as Kijiji for around $400.00. With the ability of individuals to make money off selling gaming accounts, the question becomes whether there is an obligation on an Estate Trustee or administrator to take these potential assets of value into account in distributing an estate. If one has accounts of value online, whether on a poker or betting website or another platform that may result in a profit for the individual, it may be worth considering planning for the distribution of the account.

When conducting your individual estate planning, it is becoming an increasingly important consideration to put in precautions or safeguards for your online accounts. This will ensure that your beneficiaries and estate trustees can access your valuable information or assets. Some options for individuals would be to store their passwords in an online service that would provide the information to selected trustees once the account owner passes away, or to attach a memorandum with a will, or put a provision in one’s will containing all of the individual’s online passwords. Furthermore, if one was an avid online poker player or had a particularly valuable account in the online gaming world worth money, it would be prudent to make a plan to cash out or sell the account.

With society moving in a more digital direction, and many aspects of people’s personal and business lives being increasingly stored or managed online, it is becoming necessary for individuals to consider their digital assets and account access upon the event of their death.

Ian M. Hull