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Digital Estate Planning Update: Google Accounts and Apps Expand Legacy Planning

Posted on: August 27th, 2015
digital estate planningGoogle launched their Inactive Account Management service in April 2013. The service allows Google account users to set rules for account disposition if no logins are registered in a set time frame. As a digital estate planning tool, this offers limited options to Google account users. With many individuals opting for paperless billing and account statements, preventing access to an account could make it difficult for an executor to identify assets. Google recently changed their Inactive Account Management options and expanded features for users to structure as part of their digital estate plan.

It is important for users to understand what services and applications are affected when using an internal account feature that a provider offers. For instance, updating legacy contact information on a Google account does not simply apply to the user’s Gmail services. Google’s behemoth operations are behind YouTube, Picasa, Google Wallet, Google Ads, etc. If an individual had uploaded video footage of a family’s life events (piano recitals, weddings, graduations, etc.) to YouTube, without proper planning those clips could be lost – provided no other copies could be located elsewhere. Similarly, Picasa is a popular digital image archival and sharing platform. Nostalgic family photos might be removed if the account owner has not completed necessary digital legacy planning. On a less sentimental note, Google Wallet offers easy money transfers and stores gift cards. An executor needs to account for all of a decedent’s financial assets.

Users should review the latest options after understanding the full scope that the Google Inactive Account Management service applies to. The newly added features include:
  • Proof of death. Google now allows executors and surviving family members to upload death certificates or obituaries to verify the user’s death.
  • Data request. Executors can request data from the deceased user’s account. Google might not be able to comply with all requests due to privacy policies, but this could help an executor identify details to assist with estate administration.
  • Request funds. The user may have earned revenue off Google Ads or YouTube Ads, or held a balance in their Google Wallet or a number of other Google-powered applications that hold or produce funds. Significant balances could be left behind, especially if the user ran an online business. An executor will need to determine date of death values and include assets in the decedent’s gross estate.
  • Hijack resolution. This is helpful if the decedent’s account was compromised by another party.
  • Account closure. The user’s account can be closed upon request.
Digital estate planning remains a complicated area of law that is still developing. The Uniform Law Commission recently re-drafted model digital asset legislation that states can adopt. Over the past few years, various online providers have started offering their own legacy planning features. Not all users are aware of these features or keep them up-to-date. Federal privacy laws also make accessing another person’s digital accounts a delicate act. Maintain a list of accounts, user IDs, and passwords in a secure place and let a trusted person know where to locate it. This list is extremely helpful during regular estate plan reviews, which can help address evolving features such as Google’s as noted above, Facebook’s Legacy Contact feature, and other internal services that can help expedite the administration of one’s digital estate.

By Attorney Samantha Reichle
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