Faculty Publications

Title

Digital Estate Planning: Is Google Your Next Estate Planner?

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

5-3-2013

Abstract

While many people do not have an estate plan in place for the disposition of their traditional assets, even fewer have a specifically designed digital estate plan to manage their digital assets upon death. By the end of 2012, almost 30 million Facebook accounts had outlived their owners, but only three million had been memorialised for their deceased owners. This leaves millions of photographs, private messages, and other digital assets stored on the deceased’s Facebook account, which is inaccessible to his or her family and friends. These forgotten pages become a virtual shrine, creating ‘a pixilated Dorian Gray, colored by iPhone photos, ‘pokes’, and ‘LOLs’ — possibly for an eternity.’ As such, the unique nature of digital assets, coupled with the fact that many digital assets will long outlive their owners, present new challenges to traditional estate planning techniques, requiring more complex planning techniques than previously used for the disposition and management of traditional estates.