Controlling your digital legacy

A survival guide for digital estate planning

Digital Death Survival Guide



Presented at SXSW 2009 at the core conversation “Who Will Check My Email After I Die?” The general process that we recommend is to list your assets, define your wishes, choose someone to execute your wishes, and provide access and control to that person. Consider creating a spread sheet that lists your assets, defines your wishes, and contains access to those accounts.


The List Your Assets section will discuss your digital possessions: photographs, videos, writing, and intellectual property that you want distributed after your death. The Define Your Wishes section will talk about how to specify what happens to your assets upon your death. The Choose a Digital Executor section will talk about how to choose someone to help execute your wishes. The Grant Access section will talk about making sure that the people that survive you will be able to access digital accounts and services. Finally the Services section contains a list of services that can help you.

Note: This is not intended to be a legally binding document. It is intended to be guides to help you better prepare yourself and your loved ones in the event of your death.

Laws that govern digital assets are in their infancy. What you need to know now is that data is governed many different ways and control and “ownership” of that content changes from state to state and from service to service. Currently control over your content is largely a matter of access and the terms of service.

List Your Assets

Many of us are creating a body of online content that will outlive us. Some of it will be valuable to your family and friends for either personal or monetary reasons. Some of it may be interesting to the people that will consider you their ancestor. Some of it will be complete rubbish.

The first step is to define your assets

  • photos
  • videos
  • writing
  • interactions
  • code
  • profiles
  • intellectual property
  • etc

One of the main challenges with managing your online content is the very notion of “ownership” itself. Additionally, there needs to be a separation between the communication medium and the content. You don’t own the email address (since the domain is only leased), but you DO own the content of your emails.

Many online assets are already governed by a “Terms of Service” (TOS). Content such as music may be strictly governed by Digital Rights agreements. Content uploaded into photo, video and social sites will likely be governed by a TOS. Blogs may or may not be governed. We suggest that you read the terms of service at each site and service that you use.

Commercial services that store your content need to be considered. Domain names are leased, not owned, and will be lost unless renewed. Hosting is a paid-for service that terminates after prepayment ends, often with the deletion of all data.

You will need to learn what you “own” and what your rights are before you can begin to give that content to your survivors. Additionally, you may want to create some communiques to your friends for distribution after your death. There are several forms that this could take. For example, you could:

  • send a batch of pre-created emails
  • post or send videos to friends
  • post messages to blogs and social networks

Define Your Wishes

Once you have defined what your assets are, you need to define what you want to do with each asset after your death. Archive it? Delete it? Give it to someone specific? While estate law varies from place to place, our culture seems to consider a person’s will as the definitive place where you define what happens to your assets after you die. We recommend that you discuss these assets with your lawyer when you are creating or modifying your will. Permanently archiving data is something that is still difficult to do. Expect to see services that offer this in the future, but currently there is nothing that we have found to do this.

Also, list content that you do not want archived and explicitly state that you want it deleted.

Choose a Digital Executor

You may benefit from naming someone your “digital executor.” This is especially important if you are responsible for the digital technology for other people (parents, spouses, children) who are less technically savvy. The myriad of accounts, usernames, emails, and passwords can complicate your survivors lives and shut down their connectivity and ability to communicate on the Web.

Even though the law does not recognize and formalize this position, it may be helpful to name someone and have them agree to help your dependents untangle the assets during the transition following your death. This person can also go through your asset list and execute your wishes, archiving, closing accounts, and deleting data as your wishes state.

Grant Access

Access to online accounts and services is of critical importance to each of us and our families. Unfortunately there are no formal or universal laws that govern online data. What we do know is that access provides control.

If a trusted person has access to your Facebook account after your death, then they can control what happens to the account. Also, a lot of content that you may consider to be yours is actually “owned” by the service or network that you post it on. Be aware that your content may be deleted once the host organization learns of your death. If you want the content archived after your death, you may need to give someone full access to the account.

The following are critical when addressing access to digital accounts and services:

1. give access to your survivors so that their digital lives are not held for ransom due to lack of access to shared accounts and services

2. give your executor or survivors the ability to carry out your wishes

Your legal will is a public document and is therefore not an appropriate place to store access to your online accounts and services. Additionally, laws concerning access to digital accounts vary from state to state. Some states do not recognize digital assets as part of a will. This forces us to find mechanisms that will give our survivors the access and control they need.

There are several approaches that you can take and several services that you can pay for to help with this issue. The approaches range from lo-fi to high tech, but whichever you choose, you must make sure that the basics are covered.

Create a centralized list/spreadsheet. Start by listing your accounts, such as:

  • registrars
  • hosting
  • email
  • social networks
  • photography networks
  • video networks
  • bookmarking services
  • blogs
  • finance and banking
  • bill pay services
  • online tools (e.g. Google Docs)
  • and many more
  • For each account, you will want to store the following items:
  • name of account
  • account number (if any)
  • description
  • URL
  • username / email address
  • password
  • specify whether the account is paid for or free
  • if a commercial account, specify how often the service is paid for

Many online services link to offline elements in your life. Bill pay services may keep your electric bill paid and your lights on. Mortgages are often paid for online. Make sure to specify the account number of these services so that your lights stay on and the bills get paid.


Death matters – so why do the British hate talking about it?

Death matters – so why do the British hate talking about it?

“I need an untamed, lovely dying. So I assume we should always have a contest in dying, kind of like Halloween costumes,” wrote Anatole Broyard in his pathography, Intoxicated by my Illness, written in the Eighties. “Isn’t there some method to flip dying into some type of celebration,” Broyard questioned. “A birthday to finish all birthdays?”

Death, illness and sickness, as Broyard knew solely too properly, are peculiarly febrile subjects in Euro-American cultures, too usually crushed underneath the heel of avoidance and deferral. Broyard’s erudite and witty chronicling of his prostate most cancers was a part of a deeper concern with the artwork of dying effectively. If he anticipated his docs to be each doctor and metaphysician, he additionally didn’t lose sight of the significance of extra mundane and sensible particulars, together with settling “unfinished enterprise” and making a will.

There is a smattering of a Broyardian sensibility to the rationale behind Dying Matters consciousness week. “Discussing dying isn’t simple, however until we have now the conversations that matter we’re unlikely to get the proper care and assist,” says Mayur Lakhani, a practising GP and chair of the Dying Matters Coalition – one in all a lot of teams which have lengthy been campaigning for higher equality in entry to finish-of-life care – and the National Council for Palliative Care. Lakhani’s feedback consult with the findings of a new Comres poll. It discovered a widespread reluctance amongst the British public to speak about or to plan for loss of life. Only 36% of adults mentioned that they had written a will and eighty three% stated they thought the British had been uncomfortable talking about dying and loss of life.

If many people are failing to make ample plans for our deaths and usually are not even talking about it, neither are we fully dying averse. While solely 21% of individuals mentioned that they’d talked about their loss of life with another person, 27% mentioned that that they had posted an internet tribute to somebody who has died.

That our digital alter egos are bolder, braver and extra idealised versions of our actual world selves appears to be a phenomena that’s already reworking dying and mourning in the UK. The physician Kate Granger is a kind of who has been blogging and tweeting about her terminal most cancers, in the hope of bringing dying out of the cultural shadows. Virtual mourning and memorialisation are additionally on the rise, with digital death and inheritance changing into new posthumous predicaments (would you need to linger on-line after you’ve gone?) in addition to area of interest markets.

In addition to charting cultural developments, there are different realities behind the impetus to desensitise loss of life and dying. Encouraging individuals to speak about their finish-of-life decisions is considered a method of transferring in direction of higher finish-of-life care, however that is solely a part of the story. Death plans and decisions are additionally constrained by who you’re, the place you reside and what you might be dying from. For instance, the ComRes analysis additionally discovered that given the alternative, simply S% of the public would select to die in hospital, with most eager to die at residence. However, the general proportion of residence deaths in England and Wales has been falling lately, with even increased charges for these aged over sixty five, ladies and other people with illnesses apart from most cancers.

It is estimated that if present traits proceed, fewer than one in ten of us in England and Wales will die at dwelling by 2030.

In 2012, the organisation Help the Hospices, found that these from ethnic minorities, and with illnesses apart from most cancers, may very well be particularly deprived of their entry to specialist palliative care providers. The organisation estimated that ninety two,000 individuals who may benefit from palliative care every year do not obtain it. And nestled inside the statistics is the particles of what appear to be disturbing commerce-offs. Research commissioned by the charity Sue Ryder in 2013, confirmed that individuals had been prepared to simply accept the prospect of a painful loss of life if it meant being with their family members at residence.

It can be the case that attitudes to ache and ache aid can range with ethnicity, religion and technology. In my workwith dying migrants to the UK, it’s not so uncommon to come back throughout those that refuse ache reduction as a result of they wish to retain some stage of consciousness when they’re dying or as a result of ache has non secular or non secular that means.Research that has compared experiences of ache amongst white British and black British Caribbean sufferers with superior most cancers found that religion can have a selected affect on each the which means and expertise of ache for black Caribbean sufferers. Pain for the latter group may very well be seen as both a check of religion or a punishment for a wrongdoing. An attention-grabbing discovering from this examine was that ache and imminent dying have been seen by some respondents inside the context of what had been tough lives. From this vantage level, their most cancers ache was not the most difficult expertise that they had endured.

The concept that we should always have some say over the place and the way we die is an increasing expectation in western cultures, based on the sociologist, David Clark. But it’s one that’s inconsistently distributed. Alongside a reticence in talking about dying that the Dying Matters survey has recognized, Clark notes the rise in recognition of recent British cultural traits: soul midwives (non-medical demise companions) and demise cafes and salons, the place folks can congregate to speak about any facet of demise, or in the case of salons, ruminate upon numerous mental and inventive morbid endeavours. “Will or not it’s the case that of their dying as of their dwelling, the child boomers get all of it?” Clark asks.

Funerals and Instagram: A look at the funeral hashtags

Dealing with Digital Death And Afterlife

“Do not stand at my grave and weep. 
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow, 
I am the diamond glints on snow.”

Mary Frye wrote that in 1932. And as we consider those thousand winds and diamond glints today, it could be akin to our digital presence. Life for you or a loved one may be gone, but the digital afterlife lives on.

Because people don’t like to think or talk about mortality and consider tweets and texts and the online world ephemeral and intangible, they naturally don’t consider their online presence living after them. But it does and will, for the 1.23 billion of us who are on Facebook alone.

What happens to our digital afterlives is becoming an increasingly urgent philosophical debate. How do you want to manage your digital footprint – the collection of memories that encapsulates you – after you’re gone? And what if you’re unexpectedly left to do the same for a loved one? Where do you even begin?

Like everything else in the digital world, policies and procedures and regulations usually happen after the fact. And all too often, as in the real world, so does digital estate planning.

2013 research report by U.S. Trust, the private wealth management arm of Bank of America, sheds some light on the rather gloomy state of digital estate planning – even for the wealthiest among us, who are most likely to have wills:

  • More than six in 10 (63%) high net worth individuals report they have not outlined wishes and instructions for their digital assets.
  • Forty-five percent have not organized passwords for accessing digital accounts and files.

A 2012 survey by online legal service Rocket Lawyer serves as a wake up call for Boomers in particular. It found that 41% of Baby Boomers aged 55-64 do not have a will, let alone a digital one. Mirroring the U.S. Trust study, it also found 63% did not know what would happen to their digital assets if they die.

Since protecting our digital assets is extremely important at AVG, I’m proud to announce that we’ve created a free eBook Dealing with Digital Death that offers a starting point for tackling the issue.  It offers considerations, recommendations, resources and guidance. From how to tackle the sensitive issues around what to do with social media profiles and blogs to creating memorials – as well as practical information on digital estate planning and how to delete retail accounts.

Here are my three takeaways:

  • Make a will!  If you already have one, good for you! Add a digital codicil, which is a simple document that amends your will, to include digital estate planning.
  • At the very least, make a list of your digital assets, passcodes and avatars, if you have them.
  • Share information and help educate your friends about the for need digital estate planning.

Sorry to be a bit morbid, but as death is a part of life, the digital world is now a part of the afterlife – and all those diamond glints.

When will Digital Death go mainstream in Israel?

When will Digital Death go mainstream in Israel?

You may not relish thinking about you or your family suffering from injuries or illnesses in the future, yet you have an insurance covering these very options, right?

The possibility of your untimely death is not something you enjoy thinking about, yet you make a will just to be on the safe side, correct?

The probability of you or your loved ones dying is not something you like thinking about, yet you sit down with your spouse, children, siblings or parents, and discuss your digital legacy, assets and estate, just as a precaution, true?

Oh, you don’t?

Let me guess why: Because you haven’t thought about it yet.

That’s OK, I didn’t think about it either. Neither did my brother before he was killed when he was hit by a car on March 2, 2011.

The term “Digital Death” refers to the digital legacies, assets and estate the “modern deceased” leave behind, of both financial and sentimental value. It’s everything you have digitally created and stored: Offline in files, pictures and videos in your computer, tablet or smartphone, and online in emails, social networks, cloud storage services, online banking accounts, virtual shops and others.

While we may not be old or wealthy enough to accumulate many physical assets, we probably are internet savvy enough to accumulate digital assets (How many online accounts do you use? How many do the younger members of your family use?).

Dealing with physical assets of the deceased is something we already know how to do: We have legislation, legal precedence and social norms to guide us, as well as experience gathered over a long period of time. This is not the case with digital assets, however. There is no legal precedence in Israel (and only a few in the world), no local social norms and no Israeli legislation.

As this is a relatively recent phenomenon, there is very little personal experience as well – but that’s going to change, soon. The number of people dying with no one but the deceased knowing neither where he or she stored all this digital wealth nor their usernames and passwords, is growing exponentially.

In the United States, five states currently have Digital Death legislation, and 18 are in various stages of catching up. Each state is struggling to define its own solution, to various degrees of scope and success, as there is (as yet) no Digital Death Uniform State Laws or Federal Law.

In Israel? There is none.

International internet providers such as , , , , and LinkedIn clearly publish their policies regarding posthumous access online.

of the Israeli ISPs whose policies I have been checking on a regular basis since 2012 publish a policy regarding posthumous access to the accounts of their users: Netvision 013Bezeq International, , Internet RimonCafé TheMarker, and Israblog (which is now defunct – another form of digital death to all the content stored in it). Even the ISPs that actually have a clear posthumous policy and procedure, such as , don’t publish it online. I gathered their varying policies one by one (they are detailed in my blog, here: Technical Guide), as a service to the public. Some Israeli ISPs policies might surprise you with how easy – or how difficult – it will be to kin or heirs to gain access to accounts of deceased relatives or loved ones after their death.

As the awareness of the importance of Digital Death grows, people are encouraged to manage their digital assets ahead of time. Even the blog posted about it.

In Israel? Using an online solution to manage your digital assets, as it is done outside the text of an official will, shall have no legal validity (according to Israeli Inheritance Law and Regulations, Chapter 1, clause 8a). Israel allows only one will and only in one format: Pen on paper (clause 18-20 in Chapter 3: Inheritance by Will, Article one).

Is the most unbearable scenario of all for you that in which people go through your private, personal stuff after your death? Even loved ones, or especially loved ones? That’s understandable, as we all cherish our privacy while we’re alive. Do we also cherish our privacy after our death? Some international ISPs – like – and some Israeli ISPs – walla!, Netvision or Bezeq International – will release the content of your email account to your kin or heirs.

So you should manage your digital assets regardless to what your wishes are: there are no right or wrong choices, only YOUR choices vs. choices made by outside factors, such as the changing policies of the various ISPs.

Do you remember that horrible moment when the technician lifted his or her gaze and sadly, not quite looking you in the eyes, told you your hard drive is lost beyond repair and with no hope of recovery? Remember that hollow feeling in the pit of your stomach when you realized your phone or tablet was stolen, with irreplaceable pictures and videos inside it? How about that time your house was broken into and your computer was stolen with invaluable data in it?

Now multiply those feelings with the pain of losing a loved one, and then multiply the data lost from that one occasion or one lost device with the loss of everything the recently deceased had stored digitally for the past who-knows-how-many-years, and you’ll get a glimpse of what families of the modern deceased are going through.

So, if you are using the Internet, manage your digital assets, legacy and estate, just like you would manage your insurance or will.

If you are a lawyer, advise your clients to manage their digital estate.

If you are an Israeli internet provider, have a clear posthumous policy and publish it online prominently.

If you are the Israel Defense Forces, add Digital Death data to the personal data you have soldiers fill in on their recruitment forms.

If you are an Israeli authority, put in place regulations for Israeli ISPs and adapt legislation to suit our age of technology.

Let’s not wait for the local version of sad stories such as Justin EllsworthBenjamin Stassen or to stir you into action. Let me be your wake up call.

Tips for Planning Your Estate for the Digital Age

Tips for Planning Your Estate for the Digital Age

As we spend more of our lives online — banking, collecting credit card rewards points, playing virtual reality games, creating photo albums, emailing, tweeting — it’s increasingly important to consider how beneficiaries can access those accounts and any assets they hold, once we’re gone.

“It used to be when someone passed away, there were all these clues — a paper trail around the house about what the deceased person owned and owed,” says Karin C. Prangley, an estate attorney at Krasnow Saunders Kaplan & Beninati in Chicago. “Now there is no more paper trail. All of that is digital. It’s a big deal because it’s hard to get at that digital information.”

Ignorance can be costly. “If you can’t get into this person’s email account, if you have no idea where this person banks … the [deceased] person may have a million dollar account at Fidelity, but you just don’t know, says Prangley. “Maybe the person had an insurance policy, maybe the person had an online store selling a specialized product, maybe there was some sort of business you as the heir don’t know about. The money goes right to the grave.”

Not having access to the deceased’s online accounts or email alerts could mean that bills normally paid online go unpaid. Since the estate is responsible for existing debt, missing those payments could cause headaches as you straighten out the problem, says Deborah L. Jacobs, author of “Estate Planning Smarts.” “If you don’t find credit card accounts quickly and bill paying is delayed and finance charges are assessed, you can most likely get the credit card companies to forgive the finance charges,” Jacobs says. “But you may have to fight them.”

The opposite situation is also a problem. Recurring bills that are on auto-pay may continue to be paid even after the product or service is no longer needed. “We’ve seen instances where someone has been dead for years and they’re still paying for The Economist online,” says Jacobs.

Finding financial accounts
Without a list of financial accounts, finding them can be tricky, but there are steps you can take. The easiest: check the person’s wallet, pocket, desk and drawers for the receipts, Jacobs says. “Even if you’re doing almost everything online, those receipts may be in their pockets.”

To find open accounts, such as credit cards that aren’t regularly being used and generating receipts or bills, you can get a copy of the deceased person’s credit report from one or all of the three consumer credit reporting agencies, TransUnion, Experian and Equifax. But you’ll need documentation, agency representatives say.

For example, all three require a copy of the death certificate and proof that you have power of attorney or are executor of the estate.

In addition to banking and investment accounts, many people access their airline, hotel and other rewards programs online, says Glenn C. Williamson, CEO and founder of WebCease Inc. in Portland, Ore., which helps heirs track down those digital assets. “I personally have half a million Hyatt points, valued at $35,000 to $45,000,” Williamson says.

The potential dollar loss goes beyond financial accounts and rewards programs to items you may not think of immediately, Prangley says. “What’s the cost of losing a lifetime of photos? What happens to unique weapons held by a World of Warcraft master? What about wins in offshore, online poker accounts?”

North American respondents to a survey by security giant McAfee valued their digital assets at an average of $54,722 with listed assets including music downloads, photos, emails, financial and health records, career information and contacts, and hobbies and creative projects.

Even a great-grandfather may have digital assets if he’s been online, says Williamson. “We did one 91-year-old guy who didn’t even have an email address and he had hotel points,” he says. Another man in his 80s had a separate Facebook account for selling RVs — news to his family, Williamson says.

Finding assets online can be time-consuming. First, heirs have to know an account exists. Second, they have to be able to gain access to that account via usernames and passwords.

“People are grieving,” says Jacobs, the author. “This is adding an extra hardship.”

Williamson estimates it took him 25 hours to find his mother’s online accounts after she passed away, which gave him the idea for WebCease. WebCease routinely searches about 60 nonfinancial online accounts, including photography sites such as Flickr, hotel and airline rewards programs, social media sites and e-commerce sites including Amazon, PayPal, Netflix and eBay.

WebCease researchers will personalize the search and look for additional accounts when necessary, Williamson says. For instance, in the case of the RV enthusiast, they searched various campground websites to see if the deceased had a membership with valuable rewards or resale potential. “We wouldn’t typically search on those, but when my researchers make a correlation they will go further than our standard list.”

WebCease lets its clients know what it finds, and then gives them each site’s policies and information on how to transfer the digital assets and how to shut down the account, Williamson says.

Rescuing vital records
Passwords are the next hurdle. Even if you as the executor or heir have written permission from the deceased account holder to access accounts, without the proper passwords, online providers may not give you the content, says Hazel Sanchez, estate planning attorney at the Law Offices of Rhonda H. Brink in Austin, Texas.

“Each one has different procedures,” says Sanchez. “Some online providers, if they were to find out the account holder is deceased, would simply close the account and delete all the information on it.”

Sanchez recommends that if you do have access to usernames and passwords, you print out hard copies of financial information so that even if the accounts are later deleted, you’ll have the information you need.

Technically in these cases, you could be liable for unlawful access of data, but it’s not likely an heir would be prosecuted. “They talk about liability of unauthorized access, but nobody ever enforces it,” Sanchez says. “It’s more important for the fiduciary to gain control of assets and prevent deletion of information before anything happens.”

Shutting down fraud
Eventually, though, you’ll want to make sure you close accounts for security reasons. The identities of nearly 2.5 million people are misused every year to apply for credit, according to a 2012 study by ID Analytics.

“You don’t want mom’s profile out there,” says WebCease’s Williamson. “When you die, it’s public record. It’s so much easier to steal a deceased person’s identity.”

To prevent fraud and identity theft, notify credit card companies and other lenders that the person has died, says Maxine Sweet, president of public education at Experian. “They will report the deceased status to the credit reporting companies and it will automatically become part of the file, preventing fraud,” she says. “If the deceased was receiving Social Security benefits, the Social Security Administration also should be notified and [SSA] will also report that information to us.”

Even if you’re not looking for open accounts, you still should contact the credit reporting agencies with a copy of the death certificate, so the credit file can be updated, says Clifton O’Neal, vice president of corporate communications at TransUnion.

You may also want to contact the Direct Marketing Association to have the deceased removed from marketing mailing lists, Sweet says. “Having those arrive in the mail can be painful for the relatives,” she says.

Planning your digital afterlife
You can prevent many of these hassles for your own heirs by making preparations now. A few simple measures can lessen or eliminate the need for your loved ones to become online sleuths after you’re gone.

  • Keep a snail mail trail
    Even if you do business mostly online, elect to receive some paper statements so your heirs will find out about your accounts from mail delivery, says Jacobs, the author. “Even though I favor cutting down on the paper in our lives, this is not the place to do it,” she says.
  • Consolidate your accounts
    Combining financial accounts or at least moving assets to a small number of providers makes them easier to keep track of, Jacobs says. “I know of a number of elderly people who have certificates of deposit at 50 different banks,” Jacobs says.

Finding the records could be sheer luck. Jacobs and her husband went to one bank her mother-in-law used to cash in one of her CDs and the bank officer told the couple she had a second CD that they hadn’t known about.

  • List account information
    Make a list of accounts with the name of the financial institution, account number and how it’s titled and put it in a folder if you’re comfortable having that information at your house, Jacobs says.

If not, make one list of user IDs and a separate list of passwords, Sanchez suggests. Give each list to a different person and tell your executor those people’s names so the two lists can be put together when you pass away, she says.

She acknowledges that keeping the list up to date could be time-consuming, but says it’s necessary. “We think it’s very important for everybody to make a list inventory of what they have,” Sanchez says.

  • Name an online executor
    As you make that list of user names and passwords, consider naming an online executor, who could be separate from your overall estate executor, says Prangley, the estate attorney. An online executor would identify and provide information to your family about your online accounts and digital assets and they could sell what might be useful to others, she says. Further, the online executor could delete any emails or other online communication that might hurt your family members, she says.

“Some people have separate online lives,” she says. “Your executor might delete your online flirting.”

  •  Additional resources
    Am industry has cropped up to cater to today’s digital estate planning needs. For example, Eterniam, founded in 2013, preserves all your digital assets — photos, videos, documents and content from social media sites. You can bequeath each asset to chosen beneficiaries.

The Digital Beyond, created by John Romano and Evan Carroll, is a think tank for digital death and legacy issues. Its website,, maintains a list of online services designed to help you plan for the future of your online content.

Can you claim frequent flier miles after death of a parent?How to prevent ID theft after deathWhat happens to credit card debt after death