Manage Your Digital Assets

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But now Facebook’s “Information Download” program allows a user (or users) with your login and password information to access your old photos and posts. Additionally, Facebook can turn your wall into a memorial page, serving to inform individuals of your passing, provide a venue for sharing memories, and ensure your ghost never turns up in “People You May Know” and other suggestions.

Talk about the ghost in the machine! Do you have any tips?
There are a number of online services you could try. One is a free service on the website If I Die.org. If I Die allows you to pen personal messages that are delivered to your loved ones upon your death, giving you the chance to say goodbye and relay personal information they may need. The letters are sent while you’re still alive, but the service encrypts all messages for security until you’ve died. Your letters can include personal missives, instructions on how you want your services handled, as well as passwords for your social sites should your friends and family want to keep photos and posts from your accounts.

Setting up measures like this could make things a lot easier for survivors. There are plenty of cases in which people don’t know all the social media monikers used by a family member. Many parents have no idea their children use Twitter, Tumblr, Foursquare or Instagram — much less what their user names and passwords are. They’re not likely to spend time tracking down accounts and contacting social networking sites.

You mentioned legislation.
Yes. Five states have enacted laws that authorize the transfer of a deceased person’s digital assets to the executor or manager of the estate. Connecticut and Rhode Island’s laws apply only to email. Indiana’s law applies to any electronically stored documents, while Oklahoma and Idaho include social media.

But the better approach is for the social media companies to adopt policies that are similar to Google’s. People could determine exactly who will get what—just as they do in a will—before tragedy strikes.

Are your digital assets the most important thing for people to contend with when you die? Likely not. But they are assets nonetheless. Remember that it’s not always about dollars and cents, and it never hurts to have a plan.

Mellody is President of Ariel Investments, a Chicago-based money management firm that serves individual investors and retirement plans through its no-load mutual funds and separate accounts.  Additionally, she is a regular financial contributor and analyst for CBS News.

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