If you have more digital assets which you own, you can also consider getting specific hardware designed to protect digital information. A perfect example would be a hard drive using complete encryption — without the proper password, nothing can be retrieved, and your assets are perfectly safe. You just have to be sure that your executor does know where the storage device is, and has all the keys to unlock it. The cons are simple: the locker must be physically accessible, undamaged (when sometimes defects appear over time, rendering your assets inaccessible), and you will have to physically access it to update it.
Simple: choose a fiduciary and give him, her or them the proper power of attorney, so that they can manage your belongings.
The choice of a will executor for your digital assets, or your “digital executor”, is a critical step in the planning. It can be an executor different from your regular will, or someone who is not in charge of your offline estate. Actually, you’d want to select someone who is very comfortable with technology, to be sure that this person will execute your orders and not make any blunder. Apart from this, it could be a good idea to find someone who is geeky enough to understand what you want, and to apply it. Finally, don’t choose someone who is too close from you. If you need to delete some materials, you don’t want your executor to fail on this because it reminds him or her too much of you.
The person in charge may or may not be aware of your choice, you can arrange the name on your will — but the key and lock to the assets will have to be in a separate list, to be sure you can update it regularly, when changing your passwords. And if you open an account for another service? That’s going to be the same. Just open your lists, add the account, save the file and voila!
“If you haven’t made arrangements in advance, those assets are going to pass to your next of kin. Maybe that’s not what you want—maybe you want to spare the spouse the embarrassment or the pain of it to keep your legacy intact.”
Another advantage of selecting only an executor and to have a separate list will enable you not only to manage your accounts, but you will be able to manage the beneficiaries. An access can be revoked only by changing the password of a file, and saving you the trouble of a trip in the attorney’s office.
“If you have an estate-plan document book, devote one page of it to this. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy,” Ms. Hays says. “If you want [an account] to be ongoing or serve as a memorial, you need to make that known to the person you ask to take care of this. Otherwise, they’ll probably just shut it down.”.
A digital executor can be used to prevent any issue around your death. If you own an online store, like an eBay account, an unscrupulous competitor could use your obituary to make your different accounts closed. Emails could be accessed by anyone smart enough, providing a proof of your death.
Finally, a good thing to do is to integrate the name of this digital executor into your “regular” will — to avoid any potential contestation.
Benjamin Stassen, like most young adults in their early 20s, had a FaceBook account and many others that he used online. As with all social media websites and websites in general Benjamin has usernames and passwords that kept others from accessing his accounts. Like everyone else, every time he used FaceBook (and other sites) he had to ‘sign-in’ in order to get into his account, and into his online life.
When Benjamin Stassen suddenly committed suicide in 2010 his distraught parents, hoping to gain some insight into why their beloved son had taken his own life, looked to his FaceBook and other social accounts for answers. They needed access to what is termed his ‘digital legacy’. What they got instead was a wall, unknowingly put up by Benjamin himself and guarded by ‘user agreements’, that made it extremely difficult to do that. In fact, it was almost impossible and has set off a debate about what constitutes ‘privacy’ after a loved one is deceased.
The Stassens eventually persuaded Google to give them access to their son’s email (through a court order) and FaceBook, grudgingly, followed suit but the problems they faced, and the concerns that their fight brought up, have shed light on an area of the internet that is still legally murky; who should get access to someone’s digital legacy in the event of their death and how can this be made legally possible?
It’s an important question to be sure. Many people have digital legacies that are quite extensive and even quite valuable. For example, what if a person has digital music that they have purchased and stored online in the cloud? Who has the right to this, and how does that person access it? Information, like that the Stassen’s were looking for, is the same and in some instances may be very important.
In the United Kingdom a study termed ‘Dying in a Digital Age’ found that although 4 out of 5 people have digital assets less than 10% of them have given any thought to how they will pass on these assets after they themselves pass on. Bank accounts, ISAs and online collections of digital art and music all have username and password protection but still very little in the way of protection for surviving family members.
The debate has just started and will get much more heated as more and more people pas that have digital legacies and no digital ‘last will and testament’ to say who gets access. Hopefully someday, when a solution is found, the light that was shed on this problem will have meant that Benjamin Stassen’s death was not completely in vain.
- Why planning for a digital death?
- A topo of digital assets versus tangible assets
- Rights and licenses
- Disclaimer : what you won’t find here
II. Good practices
- Personal data
- Professional data
- Revenues generating online operations
- Online money
- Expert knowledge
- About backups.
- Online services
- Physical data
- Privacy management
III. Steps to follow: an audit
- 1. Do an online cartography
- 2. Remove what you don’t use
- 3. Cloud what you can
- 4. Update a password list
- 5. And do it regularly
IV. To be prepared if sh*t happen
- Prepare a will executor
- A trendy alternative
- Prepare a digital legacy locker
- Do you want a physical locker ?
- Prepare your data flows today
- Write out instructions for each package
- The Poor Man solution
- Get to know more
- Beware !
- Long live the King (or Queen)
- A service checklist
List of services // digital legacy tools
Death policies of your the different services you may use
You will have to be extremely cautious when discussing about your rights on the digital goods that you are using. Sometimes you own your assets, but in some other cases, you do not really own them. For example, you may not own an ebook the same way you own a hardcover, paper-based, physical book — or music they same way you have CDs at home. If we take the example of the Mac App Store, we might see in the Terms of purchase (which of course you had carefully and thoughtfully read) that you buy a license to use, not a good that you own — and the public realized this after an outburst of actor Bruce Willis.
Some other services, like trusts, can be used to transfer the license to a .. trust. That’s what, for example, a Digital Asset Protection Trust# “can manage these assets and allow those who you pre select to access them without violations of the license terms and without potential liability to others”.
We’re of course not advising you to try to break the law, but you can make it easier for your beneficiaries to access the files that you once “had”. With a proper planning, you can make sure they will have all the cards in hands to receive what you wanted them to have. But having access is different from having the rights to listen to your former favorite songs!.