Preparing for the Oncoming RUFADAA Tsunami on Estate & Elder Law

As of this writing, 31 states in the union have either enacted or will be enacting legislation based on the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act of 2015 (RUFADAA[1]). The new legislation affects both regular folks, the end users (the “User”); and online providers alike. RUFADAA focuses directly on “Digital Assets,” meaning those assets not directly managed by typical fiduciary means such a Payable/Transfer on Death scenario. These assets include a myriad of items, from e-mails to information like documents, apps, music and multimedia, and financial data stored in the cloud or even on a local phone or computer. Unless and until the consequences of not handling such data is discussed during a planning session, few clients will comprehend the depth of the situation.

Once it is discussed, clients will recognize that this information, potentially valued in the thousands of dollars, let alone priceless sentimental value, will be unrecoverable upon incapacity or death of the User. Estate planners must recognize that absent the User’s designation via an “online tool,” as designated in the RUFADAA, it falls to the User’s Powers of Attorney, Last Will, Trust, or Letters of Guardianship to determine who will have the authority to access their Digital Assets and to what extent that access is permitted. The last resort will be an online provider’s (“Custodians”) End User License Agreements (EULA) which may not be so kind to the User.

A further challenge regarding the practicality of dealing with the Digital Assets is that each Custodian will have differing mechanisms for the incapacitated or deceased User’s representatives (the “Fiduciary”) to actually effect access or termination of the Digital Assets. During a time of strife, either in dealing with an identity theft or death, the Fiduciary will lack the time and willingness to deal with each individual Custodian on the Custodian’s terms, even if a Custodian’s online tool was utilized by the User. Only one service, EstatePass.com, owned by Obolus, LLC, has risen to the challenge of helping Fiduciaries navigate the modern complexities of dealing with Digital Assets. By simplifying the process of transferring or closing the Digital Assets of the incapacitated or deceased through a managed database of over 1,200 online service providers, Fiduciaries have a proven, easy to use process to handle Digital Assets.

Obolus has setup EstatePass to benefit both the Fiduciary and the User. The Fiduciary may choose to use EstatePass to access or close, depending on any pre-set authority, a User’s Digital Assets. The User can utilize EstatePass’s Digital Advance Directive service to automatically effect a transfer or closure of accounts upon the User’s notification of death.

RUFADAA forces the Custodians to a limit of 60 days to either permit a request to access or close the User’s Digital Asset. This in turn creates an implicit requirement for such Custodians to deal with the simple fact that their user accounts are just like any other account held by a financial institution in that the Custodians must provide a ready process to handle such requests. Most Custodians do not presently have policies in place, as the focus was on acquiring users, not what to do with the accounts when the User is no longer able to manage the account. A prime example of the growth of the online graveyards is Facebook, which has over 300,000 worldwide Users dying every month. With over 1.6 Billion “Users,” there’s no indication as to how many of those are of the living variety. Advertisers fly like moths to the flames toward social media companies with high user account numbers, without a thought of how many of those accounts are actually merely acting as a reminder of those who once were. Companies like Twitter cull their accounts after six months of inactivity, but other behemoths like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Pinterest never remove accounts until otherwise notified. Only now, with RUFADAA coming online, will Fiduciaries have a path to not only collect or close the Digital Assets of the deceased, but of making those social media environment more of a place for the living.

Obolus and its EstatePass service, like the Obol, from which its name is derived, will finally permit those Digital Assets that were until now forced to wander Digital realm for an eternity to be at peace with RUFADAA’s help.

[1] All terms in quotes are as defined by the RUFADAA.

 

David H. Slonim, Esq. is the CEO and Co-Founder of Obolus, LLC and Elder Law attorney based in Melbourne, FL.

Challenges Facing Your Digital Estate

Since 2003, we have seen a significant shift in how our information is stored, delivered, and used.  In the past I used to advise clients to look in the mailbox for bills and statements to locate the assets of a deceased loved one. Now, in 2016, the mailbox is electronic and the bills, statements, and other notifications are getting to be all digital. We are seeing our lives transitioning to the internet “cloud” every day.  Regardless of how much we like it, or how comfortable we are with it, our lives tomorrow will be different that they are today.

This evolution in how we do what we do is causing, for some of us, a disconnect in how we see our world.  What used to be obvious is now more subtle; what used to be challenging is now easier.  And because of these changes, we take so much more for granted. Those pictures taken of uncle bob and his kids on Instagram; the documents received from a colleague stored on Dropbox; the credit card bill from Netflix; the invoice of your personal items from Amazon; the profile of you on LinkedIn; remember that payment via bitcoin or PayPal?; and don’t forget your timeline on Facebook. The technological changes we have been experiencing have enabled us to leave an imprint of our lives online in so many ways.  And whilst this is nice and it certainly is easy, the question that few are looking at is what happens to these digital ghosts of our lives after we have passed away?

Last year, in 2015, there were approximately 83 million Americans who had atleast one of their online accounts hacked if we look at just the top four hacks of the year[1]. About 80%[2] of all people who pass away in the United States have online accounts of one sort. As time goes on, that number will only increase, as the Gallup pollclearly shows. Of course, the more we go online, the greater the threats from hacks, ID theft, misappropriation of information, and con-artists absconding with ill-gotten funds. One personal anecdote I can share is that of a childhood friend of mine who passed away leaving behind an infant daughter. A miscreant posted on her Facebook page a link to have the friends and family donate money for a “charity” for the benefit of the child. After a time, those funds were collected and the person disappeared into the ether. This is just one case of many where people are abused during a time of emotional stress.

Several challenges face those survivors acting as representatives of the deceased when it comes to closing or accessing the still active accounts of the deceased. First, identifying the active accounts may be an issue if no inventory is left in place. Second, the representative has to have the time to navigate the web sites of these accounts to even determine who to contact or what form to complete so that the account can be closed. Sometimes these accounts may need to be accessed rather than closed, and that’s another significant matter that will be discussed below. Third, not every online account will require the same information to close such the account. For example, while Facebook may simply require proof that the person seeking to close an account is an immediate family member, LinkedIn requires the member’s name, your relationship to them, the company they worked for, a link to the profile, and the member’s email address; just to cite two examples.

As the internet ages with us, a critical mass is developing in the legal community and state legislatures to better help the representatives of the deceased to handle these online accounts. A national framework called the Revised Uniform Access to Digital Assets Act (RUFADDA) has been drafted to enable access and closure to these accounts. The difficult path that lies ahead is in having all states enact laws within their own legislatures that will ratify the RUFADDA. At present about 54%[1] of the states have begun the process of introducing legislation dealing with this. Florida is set to put into law it’s version this July. We can’t forget though that while the United States created the internet, it is worldwide, as are people’s accounts. So while our nation is slowly making strides, many online providers have no process or legal structures in place to allow for the living to handle their loved one’s accounts.

Further, and as I alluded to earlier, there is a bright line that cannot be crossed when dealing with the accounts. Accessing an account requires prior consent from the account owner. When was the last time you completed a form allowing your representative to access your email account.  Most likely, the answer is “never.” Here, the Stored Communications Act (SCA) and the Federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (FCFAA), actively prevent any unauthorized person from accessing such accounts. Doing so opens the door for civil and criminal penalties against the online account provider and yourself, if you were to access your loved one’s email, for example.

When examining the upcoming legal structure of the states’ work, it is very important to understand that the deceased’s digital assets are exactly that – assets. They must be dealt with in the same way a person’s other assets are handled, and that is by using a durable power of attorney or guardianship while a person is alive, but incapacitated, and through a person’s Last  Will or Trust when deceased. This will necessitate a court supervised administration of the estate to deal with the digital estate even if a person had no others financial assets to speak of.

There are things that can be done. First and foremost, speak to an attorney who is versed in digital estate management and who has the understanding and capability to ensure your legal estate documents are up to the future task of providing the prior consent required. Next, work with certain online companies like EstatePass.com to safeguard your information while living and will ensure your and your future representative’s legal rights are protected by having the prior consent on file, or if dealing with the accounts of a deceased loved one, EstatePass.com will provide a simple online tool to help you close the necessary accounts. Remember: simply having a list of accounts and passwords does not protect your rights or give a representative the authority to access these accounts.

[1] Vtech – 5M, 11/2015; Ashley Madison – 37M, 8/15; Office of Personnel Management – 22M, 7/15; Anthem – 18.8M 2/15

[2] http://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/publications/2014/acs/acs-28.pdf

[3] Who Will Delete You? Fiduciary Access to Digital Asset, ActionLine Vol. XXXVII, No. 2 (Winter 2015)

Digital Assets to Include in Your Estate Planning

The Florida Bar Journal

As the world turns paperless, digital assets have become the new norm. There are over 2.4 billion users of the Internet worldwide, up 566 percent since 2000.2 Among Americans, 85 percent of adults and 95 percent of teenagers use the Internet.3 Of those Americans, two-thirds of them engage in social media, e.g., Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter, which absorbs more than 25 percent of all time spent online.More than 50 percent of American seniors are online.4 And, a surprising 92 percent of children under the age of two have a digital presence.5

Despite the fact that the world’s digital footprint is extensive, planning for digital assets is limited. Further, digital assets are constantly changing and growing. Unfortunately, such growth is outpacing existing state and federal laws governing digital assets. Moreover, online service providers each have their own terms of service (TOS) agreements, and they are not uniform. Surrounded by an unpredictable and evolving legal landscape, it is important for clients to be aware of potential issues that may arise with respect to their digital footprint and to plan accordingly.

What are Digital Assets?

Examples of digital assets chart

Digital assets are information created, generated, sent, communicated, received, or stored by electronic means on a system for the delivery of digital information or on a digital device. A digital asset, thus, is any item of text or media formatted into a binary source that includes the right to use it — think electronic record.6

Digital Assets: Real Value
According to a global survey conducted in 2014 by McAfee, the average person has digital assets worth approximately $35,000.7 Even though digital assets may not be the most valuable assets for clients, they can be some of the most cherished, e.g., the family’s digital photos, videos, personal blogs, information stored on social media sites, and email accounts. Nevertheless, some digital assets have substantial monetary value. For example, real estate in the virtual world “Entropia Universe” sold for $650,000; the domain name fun.com sold for approximately $10 million; and OkCoin, the largest Bitcoin exchange, transacted close to 1.9 million bitcoins (over $1 billion) in September 2014.8 Like other property, digital assets need to be managed during life and protected after death or incapacity.

Obstacles to Access by Fiduciaries
In the modern world, digital assets have largely replaced tangible ones. Documents are stored in electronic files instead of in file cabinets. Photographs are uploaded to websites instead of printed on paper. Stacks of letters are now email folders. However, the laws governing fiduciary access to these digital assets are scarce and outdated. Even if a fiduciary can determine what digital assets are held by the account holder, the fiduciary may not be able to access the digital assets. The following are three obstacles facing a fiduciary:

Passwords and Encryption —The initial hurdle for most fiduciaries is encryption. This safety buffer can usually be solved by knowing the password. But fiduciaries rarely have passwords, and without one, many online service providers will not grant access to the fiduciary, nor are they required by law to release contents or provide access. Service providers may, in certain circumstances, voluntarily provide some content to the fiduciary; however, such a decision is entirely within their discretion. Even in the rare event a fiduciary has the password, he or she still may want to pause before accessing the online account because such action could result in criminal liability.

Federal and State Laws — All 50 states have criminal laws prohibiting unauthorized access to digital assets, but only seven states have enacted statutes governing digital assets.9 Numerous other states have proposed legislation or are in the process of drafting legislation, including Florida. All seven of the existing state statutes grant a fiduciary access to digital assets and eliminate state criminal liability, but there is no uniformity with respect to how they treat digital assets (e.g.,types of digital assets covered, whether death or incapacity is covered, and the rights and type of fiduciary covered).

Federal law is outdated. The main two federal laws governing digital assets are the Stored Communications Act (SCA) and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), both passed in 1986 — the virtual dark ages. In fact, such federal laws add the following constraints on fiduciaries.

The SCA, also known as Privacy Protection Laws, penalizes the “unauthorized distribution” of electronic files and communications, including to a fiduciary or heir, unless a lawful consent exception applies. However, lawfulconsent only permits disclosure by an online service provider, it does not require disclosure. This issue was litigated in In re Request for Order Requiring Facebook, Inc. to Produce Documents and Things, No. C 12 80171 LHK (N.D. Ca. Sept. 20, 2012).In that case, a decedent’s family tried to compel Facebook’s release of certain account content, and the court held that the SCA allowed only voluntary disclosure and that the service provider, Facebook, was not required to disclose the account contents. The court did not rule on whether the personal representative possessed lawful consent of the decedent, but allowed Facebook to decide. The ruling permits Facebook (and other service providers) the discretion to disclose account contents, but holds they cannot be compelled. Facebook has declined to do so, thus far.

The CFAA, also known as anti-hacking laws, provides a strong barrier to fiduciary access of digital assets. The CFAA criminalizes intentional unauthorized access or exceeding authorized access, which includes the violation of a website’s terms of service agreement. Therefore, even if a fiduciary or heir was voluntarily given the username/password, accessing the online account could subject the fiduciary or heir to criminal prosecution.

Terms of Service Agreements — Terms of service agreements (those pesky small-print documents that pop up when establishing an account that users typically check the “agree” box without reading) are another obstacle to access. Many prohibit a user from allowing another to access his or her account. For example, both TOS agreements for Facebook and Microsoft’s Hotmail specifically prohibit sharing passwords and accessing another’s account even with permission from the account holder. The U.S. Department of Justice declares it a crime under the CFAA to violate a website’s TOS agreement; however, they have pronounced a restraint against prosecuting minor violations.10 Unfortunately, though, they have not expressed what constitutes a minor violation.11 Fiduciary access to an incapacitated or deceased person’s online accounts may be a crime under the CFAA, if it “exceeds authorized access” as described in a website’s TOS agreement. It is disturbing that logging on to your spouse’s account could result in a felony. As absurd as that may sound, leaving the matter to prosecutorial discretion may not provide much comfort to fiduciaries who wish to avoid potential liability, especially to professional fiduciaries that tend to be sensitive about liability and reputation risks.

These obstacles leave account holders uncertain about the future of their digital assets, online service providers fending for themselves when drafting their TOS agreements, and fiduciaries choosing whether to risk civil liability if they refuse to manage digital assets or criminal liability if they perform their duties.

Current State of the Law — and a Solution?
The National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws passed the Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (UFADAA) on July 16, 2014. The primary purpose of UFADAA is to grant fiduciaries the authority to access, control, and manage digital assets, while maintaining the account holder’s privacy and intent. In other words, it fills a void by creating a legal right where none had existed.

The UFADAA is model legislation that can be enacted by state (not federal) legislatures and does not become law until approved and enacted by such states. An issue that the drafting committee had to overcome was the supremacy clause and the U.S. Supreme Court’s interpretation. The Supreme Court has long held that state laws in conflict with federal laws are preempted by federal law. To ensure that UFADAA would be enforceable by fiduciaries against online service providers, the committee had to craft a law that would not be directly in conflict with federal law and would survive constitutional challenge.

UFADAA covers four types of fiduciaries: 1) personal representatives/executors, 2) conservators/guardians, 3) agents under a power of attorney, and 4) trustees. It specifically defines a fiduciary as an authorized user, which should avoid liability for the fiduciary under the CFAA as well as applicable state laws that prohibit unauthorized access. With respect to TOS agreements, UFADAA provides that “fiduciary access, by itself, will not be deemed a violation of a TOS agreement or deemed unauthorized transfer of an account.” In addition, it provides that fiduciaries have lawful consent, which would allow service providers to voluntarily disclose information under the SCA; however, even with lawful consent, it is important to note a fiduciary cannot compel disclosure by the service provider.

UFADAA presumes that the interest to manage both digital and nondigital assets is similar and relies on a well-established existing state law pertaining to fiduciaries’ rights over nondigital assets — the right to “step into the shoes” of a decedent to manage the assets. Accordingly, the UFADAA intends to grant the fiduciary the same authority as the account holder over the digital assets.

The UFADAA applies only to fiduciaries, as defined. A family member or heir of the account holder may seek to access the account, but, unless such person is a fiduciary, the UFADAA does not cover such actions.

What to Do? What to Do!
As discussed above, fiduciaries face many obstacles with respect to digital assets that do not apply to traditional assets. Therefore, proactive planning for these assets is necessary. There are two critical steps a client should take.

Figure 1: Social/Digital Media Account Access after Death per TOS Agreements and Figure 2: Email Accounts – Access after Death per TOS Agreements

First, identify and create an inventory (hard copy or electronic) of all digital assets. The inventory can and should be updated regularly. A different plan for each category of digital asset may be needed. Many applications exist to help clients plan for their digital assets. For clients who change their password frequently and/or use many different passwords (both recommended for security purposes), applications such as 1Password, LastPass, Dashlane, etc., store all passwords with access to the list through only one main password. The future may bring more simplicity as fingerprints may become the new form of password. There are also several third-party storage providers for digital assets that act as electronic safe deposit boxes and only release information upon the user’s death or incapacity. These allow clients to easily update information during life and grant their personal representative or guardian immediate access upon death or incapacity. However, privacy concerns exist because these storage providers are targets for identity theft. In addition, this is a relatively new industry and there are no guarantees these companies will still be in business at a client’s passing.

Second, provide the fiduciary access to the digital assets. During life, a client may wish to grant an individual the ability to have immediate access by creating an account with multiple users or appointing an agent through a durable power of attorney. If using a durable power of attorney, a provision granting access to administer digital assets (which could be specific to certain types of digital assets or broad applying to all digital assets) should be explicitly included. Currently, no states have modified their power of attorney statutes to include digital assets. Additionally, a review of the TOS agreement is essential because it may trump any lifetime planning. Your client may also wish to create backup files of tangible media through DVDs, CDs, flash drives, external hard drives, or a cloud service.

After death, a last will and testament or revocable trust can give a fiduciary access to a decedent’s digital assets. The will or trust can specifically devise digital assets and appoint a fiduciary (such as a digital personal representative or digital trustee) to administer the digital assets. Another option is to draft a separate letter of instruction with respect to digital assets or incorporate it by reference into a will or trust to the extent allowed under state law. For example: “I have prepared a memorandum with instructions concerning my digital assets and their access, handling, distribution, and disposition. I direct my personal representative to follow my instructions concerning my digital assets.” Because the Florida Probate Code only permits separate writings regarding tangible personal property, it may not be effective (yet).13Perhaps it could be incorporated by reference under F.S. §732.512. Regardless, such a provision would only be effective if directly included in a will or trust, so also consider incorporating a definition of digital assets (you may want to use the UFADAA’s definition until the time Florida adopts one). Your client’s will or trust should specifically provide which digital assets are under the fiduciary’s control and where or how to dispose of them after death. Explicit directions are more likely to convince the service providers to grant the fiduciary access.

The following is sample language to consider including as part of fiduciary powers:

To access, use, and control my digital devices, including but not limited to, desktops, laptops, tablets, peripherals, storage devices, mobile telephones, smart phones, and any similar devices, which currently exists or may exist as technology develops for the purposes of accessing, modifying, deleting, controlling, or transferring my digital assets.

To access, modify, delete, control, and transfer my digital assets, including but not limited to, emails received, email accounts, digital music, digital photographs, digital videos, software licenses, social network accounts, file sharing accounts, web hosting accounts, tax preparation services accounts, online stores, affiliate programs, other online accounts, and similar digital items which currently exist or may exist as technology develops. To obtain, access, modify, delete, and control my passwords and other electronic credentials associated with my digital devices and digital assets described above.

Advisors need to be familiar with the evolving federal and state laws relevant to digital assets and the importance of planning for a client’s digital assets under the applicable laws. The estate planning norm of the future will include granting a fiduciary the right to manage digital assets.

Funerals and Instagram: A look at the funeral hashtags

Gizmodo Gets Everything About the Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act Wrong

As I’ve written recently, the Uniform Law Commission approved the Uniform Fidicuary Access to Digital Assets Act. The act can be found on the Committee’s website, along with supplmenetal material, such as prior drafts, comments, and issues memorandum. A direct link to the final approved Uniform Act, with a prefatory note and comments can be found here.

The Uniform Act

I was appointed by the American Bar Association to be a Section Advsior to the Committee. I attended meetings and participated in the drafting of the Act. My comments here, are my own though.

A Uniform Act is a “model” or “proposed” law that other states can take and, with minimum tweaking, can adopt as their own. The first state to enact the act was Delaware, when Delaware became the first state to enact the Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act.

Ars Technica has a very good article on it.

Gizmodo then wrote its own article entitled, “All States Should Adopt Delaware’s Sweeping New Digital Inheritance Law.” The article states that “Delaware’s law—and the ULC legislation that guided it—simply gives the account holder power to decide what happens to his or her digital assets.”

No. In fact, that’s what the law does not do. The Act is not about inheritance, and it certainly does not give any additional power to transfer assets that didn’t exist before.

The Act is about ACCESS

As the Prefatory Note to the Act states, “The act vests fiduciaries with the authority to access, control, or copy digital assets and accounts.” What does that mean?

Before the Act, it was unclear whether or not your personal representative, or someone you appointed as your power of attorney, or a trustee, or a guardian could even access your digital assets. Because of federal law, their logging into your email accounts could be a felony.

The purpose of the Uniform Act, and the Delaware law, is to set forth the times and circumstances that fiduciaries could obtain access -to digital assets and online accounts.

It does not, and it can not, create property rights that were not there to begin with.

 

The business of digital life and death

The business of digital life and death

The business of digital life and death

  1. Can you bequeath your iTunes collection in your will?
  2. Does anyone know you have Bitcoins or money in a PayPal account?
  3. If you’ve accumulated virtual wealth in a massive multiplayer online game is that part of your estate and can you be cashed out?
  4. Can loved ones get copies of your Facebook photos and videos?
  5. What happens to your wedding videos, holiday snaps, data, email or social media accounts? More importantly, what do you want to happen? Do you want them archived, deleted, passed on?

If you’ve given these issues so much as a second thought you’re in the minority although with digital participation continuing to grow rapidly and an increasingly ageing online population that will shift.

It may seem incredulous to those still anchored to the view that social media is a young person’s game that the fastest growing social media demographic is 50 plus.

In the US 70% of 65 – 74 year olds are on Facebook, where even now there are 30 million accounts belonging to people who are no longer alive.

For those concerned about properly managing their estate, digital death raises complex issues around what constitutes an asset or special relationship and how to balance privacy and security with passing on relevant information.

For businesses that support people to deal with death – trustee companies, estate planners, superannuation funds and financial planners – digital death presents an opportunity for thought leadership, deepening client engagement and even business growth.

First let’s look at the global context.

No international standard

There’s no international standard for estate planning. The law differs across and within countries and is complicated by many factors including the jurisdiction within which a digital or social media platform operates. That aside, many countries are evolving existing laws to better deal with digital death.

For example, last month in the US the Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act was passed which gives the fiduciary (personal representative of a deceased person’s estate) the right to manage a digital asset like any other tangible asset.

There have not yet been specific changes to estate planning laws in Australia but that there are no simple answers. For example, including a password in a will could backfire because under probate it becomes public.

National Manager of Estate Planning for Equity Trustees Anna Hacker says that to date, social media hasn’t been a big issue in estate planning, as the older generation is not yet attuned to it. “However we expect that it will become a growing issue in the future because the legal treatment of digital assets after death is not clear cut,” said Hacker.

“We are increasingly raising the issue with clients when providing an estate planning service to ensure they have thought through the implications.”

Some legal questions people need to think about when drafting a will are –

  • What constitutes a document (a will can be drafted on an iPhone but what about a note in a social media account)?
  • What constitutes a special relationship (can a will be challenged by a virtual friend)?

Different platforms, different terms

Each of the social media platforms also has a different approach to dealing with death.

  • Facebook – Facebook protects the privacy of someone who dies by securing the account, although a family member can request that the account be removed or memorialized. Even if someone leaves you his or her password it’s a violation to log in. However, the social network is evolving its approach in response to real events. For example, a father who lost his 22-year old son asked Facebook to help him access videos and photos. Facebook responded using its Look Back feature to create a video of favourite moments that people can view but not share, an attempt to balance sharing and privacy.
  • TwitterTwitter will work with an immediate family member or estate representative to deactivate an account.
  • Google – Google has developed an inactive account manager which gives someone access to your Google account if you die.

It lets you set up a timer so that if you don’t use your Google account for a period Google notifies and give the person you’ve named access to selected parts of your account.

Digital executors

To prevent malicious people trying to close real accounts, social media platforms need to validate family members and get certified copies of death certificates. Even with clear instructions and policies about digital closure it’s a time consuming process.

If you’re the executor of a will, you may not even know where to start. If social media accounts aren’t dealt with properly there can be unwanted consequences.

There are many stories of accounts that have continued to operates and where earlier likes or dislikes triggered responses on other people’s pages, even after death.

The business of death

For businesses that support people to deal with death, digital death is an opportunity for –

  1. Thought leadership
  2. Client engagement
  3. New products
  4. Business growth

1. Thought leadership

Businesses can showcase their expertise and provide valuable insights that help people consider this emerging issue by –

  • Blogging – publish high quality content on the state of the law and what people can do to audit and plan for digital death on your company blog
  • Publishing an eBook – produce a book of questions and answers that you can email to existing clients or present to client leads to help them get their head around the issue
  • LinkedIn – join a LinkedIn group and discuss emerging legal issues with peers from around the world
  • Videos and podcasts – interview digital estate businesses or put up your own people to talk through the various issues

The Digital Beyond is a good example of a company that is doing so by providing many free but also paid legal resources on digital estate planning that includes –

  • A list of current laws in the US pertaining to digital assets.
  • Articles and books relevant to digital assets and digital estate planning.
  • Online services and resources to help professionals with digital estate planning.

2. Client engagement

  • You’re probably already dealing with estate issues for clients who may not be aware of the impending impact of digital life on their affairs.
  • Take the opportunity to strengthen your relationship by educating them.
  • You could provide guidance how to audit digital assets or let them know the kind of archiving lists on the market.

3. New products

  • There’s an increasing suite of new (mostly technical) tools that give people better control over digital life.
  • They vary from practical tools like Eterniam, which allows you to preserve photos, videos and documents or creative ones like Eterni.me, which allows you to create an online avatar for loved ones to engage with after you are gone.
  • There are also business solutions, for example, Estate Map is a cloud-based estate planning tool (still under development) which plugs into an estate planning law practice, giving clients a secure place to store and pass on important estate information.

4. Business growth

  • Death is emotionally difficult enough without discovering that you have no idea what digital assets a person had or what they wanted done with them. Here trust, estate and legal businesses can extend their existing advisory services to offer clients better support.

Click here to view original web page at The business of digital life and death