Is Your Google Account Part of Your Estate Plan?
By Thacker Sleight
How much information do you keep in the cloud? Managing your Google account and other digital assets is becoming an increasingly important part of estate planning in the last several years. If your estate plan is older, your representative may not be prepared to preserve these assets in a way that honors your memory.
Why Digital Estate Planning is Important
Your estate plan is designed to guide your representative through dealing with your final affairs, like your home, bank accounts, vehicles, and personal property. But what about your digital assets?
Increasingly, Michigan residents own or control property that doesn’t exist outside of cyberspace. This could be a personal blog, social media accounts, or even your Google Account, including your email, private photos, documents, and access to your financial information.
Michigan’s Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act gives your estate’s personal representative the right to control your digital assets. It requires “digital custodians” – the companies that control your online assets – to work with your personal representative and give them either access to your account or a copy of the digital assets held there.
To take advantage of Michigan’s law, you should work with your estate planning attorney to list your digital assets, along with identifying information for each one (such as the registered email or user ID). Include it in your digital estate plan, so your representative knows where to find them. It is a good idea to include instructions about what you want to be done with these assets to prevent possible embarrassment or exposure to loved ones viewing the photos or documents after your death.
How to Tell Google How to Manage Your Account After You Die
Google requires you to do more than just write a will to manage your digital assets. Many users have Google accounts for email, documents, photos, and maps. The content in your Google account can sometimes be highly sensitive and very sentimental.
Once your estate planning documents are complete, you will need to give your representative access to your Google account. Skipping this step could make administering your estate more complex and make it hard for loved ones to access your photos or documents while they are planning your memorial or managing your affairs.
To be sure Google honors your digital estate plan, you need to tell Google how you want your account managed after you pass away. Here’s how the process works:
- Go to myaccount.google.com in your web browser (Chrome, Firefox, Safari, or Internet Explorer)
- Sign in to your Google account with your Gmail address and password.
- Click “Data & Personalization” in the menu on the left.
- Scroll down and click “Make a Plan for Your Account.”
On this page, you will be able to set:
- How long Google should wait before making your account inactive.
- Your phone number for texts from Google.
- Your email address.
- An alternate recovery email address.
On the next page, Google will ask you to:
- Enter email addresses for up to 10 contacts who can access the account. Make sure your personal representative is on the list.
- What specific data you want to share.
- Whether Google should automatically respond to anyone emailing you after your account is inactive.
- Whether Google should delete your account when it goes inactive.
You will be invited to review your plan and set up email reminders once the Inactive Account Manager is enabled.
Update Your Estate Plan to Include Your Digital Assets
If you haven’t updated your estate plan in the last five years, it may not include any or all your digital assets. It’s a good idea to review your estate plan every three to five years anyway to make sure nothing has changed in your family, your wishes, or the law. If your estate is older than the Michigan laws protecting digital assets, your estate plan could be ignoring everything you own online.
At Thacker Sleight, we want to make sure all your assets and your loved ones are secure. Our experienced and thoughtful estate planning attorneys know how to protect your digital assets and make sure the internet companies honor your requests. We provide our clients exclusive, highly professional service that is sensitive to their unique situations. If you are considering updating your estate plan, contact us at 616.888.3810 to schedule a consultation.