Author(s): Tara Velting, Ann Stuursma

As more of us spend more time online, the question becomes what happens to our online lives after we die? Many of us bank online, email from various accounts, play games online, sell and bid on eBay and PayPal, and make postings on social sites. What happens to all of our “online stuff” when we are gone?

Most free email providers and many Internet service providers terminate . customer accounts upon death. lt is unclear who owns the intellectual property in these emails. Often times family members want to access the deceased’s emails and accounts. On the other hand, email providers have legitimate privacy concerns. Ask yourself, do you want your parents and children reading all of your email? Does a privacy right terminate with your passing?

Under Michigan’s Estate and Protected individuals Code, Probate Courts often look to the intent of the deceased. The problem is the deceased probably did l nothing to make his or her intentions known.

A durable power of attorney could grant your agent access to your electronic assets, but how do you deal with an email provider that refuses to keep the account active upon someones death? You might have to resort to obtaining an order from the Probate Court. Again, the Probate Court wants evidence of the deceased’s intent. ln this regard, it is important that the deceased’s wishes were known.

Some online companies are emerging to attemptto store and pass on electronic information after a person’s death. Jeremy Toeman founded Legacy Locker, a company thatstores and passes on account information and passwords after someone dies. Legacy Locker has an annual fee and you can specify who gets access to your online information after death. The company has safeguards in place to ensure a death certificate is received and examined prior to releasing digital assets.

As more of our lives are spent online we may have to consider incorporating more specitic language into our powers of attorney to address electronic information and assets and who has authority over these assets when we are gone.

For more information, contact Ann Stuursma and Tara Velting.