What Is Digital Estate Planning? Digital estate planning is estate planning for digital or online assets, such as e-mail, text messages, websites, financial or personal information, and social networking accounts. Digital estate planning is a new field, so there are no federal statutes and only a handful state laws […]
When writing a will or planning your estate you should also think about your digital assets and what will happen to them once you are gone.
A lot of people are not taking their digital estate into account when putting their will together, despite the fact that it could be worth thousands of pounds. Things like music files, films, ebooks, PayPal balances, online bank accounts and registered domain names all add up, and many people are sitting on a fortune in digital assets. Aside from the monetary value of digital property, there is also sentimental value to think about. Photos that are stored online could become inaccessible to your loved ones unless you specify your wish to pass your accounts on.
It’s Good to Talk
There may be assets that your family aren’t even aware of too. Talking about your will with your family is often considered a taboo, but it is vital to include your loved ones in the planning process and make them aware of any property they may not know about – particularly digital property. Compiling a list of any online accounts you own, as well as important or valuable files and their locations is the best way of ensuring they are passed on. Keeping an inventory will also help you to organise your digital assets to make the process easier. There are various password management services online which store usernames and passwords to any online accounts you have. This service is then accessed by a single master password which can be given to an executor so they can access all the information they need in one place.
Planning in Advance
Complications can arise when transferring digital assets. Handing over digital media such as music, films and ebooks may depend on the terms of service. Some providers may stipulate that despite paying for the product, you don’t actually own it, therefore cannot transfer ownership to another person. Some services actually require a death certificate to be presented in order to close or transfer ownership of an account or device. If you are planning to store your digital media with an online storage provider such as Dropbox, check the terms of service. Storing your media in one place, only for your relatives to find out they are unable to access your account after you have died could be devastating.
One of the best ways to ensure you secure your digital legacy is to seek help from professionals. If you would like advice or assistance on writing a will, please get in touch.
Those of us in finance spend a lot of time planning for retirement (or helping others plan for retirement,) but life never goes exactly as planned. In case of a sudden tragedy that leaves you unable to care for your loved ones, there’s a company that will help guide them through the process of managing your affairs.
Everplans co-founder Abby Schneiderman came to a realization when she was planning her wedding six years ago. Schneiderman was using wedding-planning websites, apps and calendars to organize the seemingly-infinite amount of moving parts that planning a wedding involves.
When she took a longer view of her post-wedding life, she found that there were plenty of services that would help her plan for retirement. But no one was offering to help her plan for beyond that, or, if she didn’t make it that far.
“The first idea for Everplans was to create the first consumer brand in end of life planning and help people navigate this topic in a way that was more modern and sophisticated and in a way that spoke to people like other sites that exist to help plan for other life stages,” Schneiderman said in an interview with Benzinga.
To build her business, Schneiderman took an unusual tack. Schneiderman and her co-founder Adam Seifer created Everplans by writing hundreds of articles about finding the best life insurance, how to pay for funerals, and the end-of-life traditions of various faiths.
“We wrote over 500 original articles on everything from how do you write a will to what to wear to a funeral, and everything in between,” said Schneiderman. “The light bulb went off for us when we noticed that we were the No. 1 organic listing for “get help finding life insurance.”
Everplans’ SEO success came with some personal tragedy for Schneiderman. About a year after founding the company, her brother died at 51 in a car accident. She said it was a “disaster” for her family to figure out how he would have wanted to settle his affairs.
“In the event that there is a death in the family, whether it is a tragic car accident or a death that occurs for natural reasons, families are left in a nightmare situation,” Schneiderman said. “We found we could really be helpful by going beyond providing content. What if we could help people get a plan in place ahead of time? We could become invaluable to people at a critical moment in their lives. So that’s what we set out to do.”
Everplans has two primary products: a retail site that costs $75/year and an enterprise product called Everplans Professional, which allows financial advisors and estate attorneys to offer the planning service to their clients to build a deeper bond beyond the numbers. Both the consumer and professional platforms help users organize, store and share all their legal, financial, healthcare and personal information so their loved ones can find it when they need it.
Everplans now has over 2,500 articles on its site, as well as state-by-state guides, checklists and worksheets. The editorial content is overseen by Gene Newman, former editor-in-chief of Maxim’s online properties.
“The articles on our site look more like articles that you would find on a site like Buzzfeed than it does a site talking about planning for insurance,” Schneiderman said. “We really did that on purpose. The type of content that we have, the topics that we’re covering are things like digital cheat sheets, how to create a digital estate plan. We are walking people through the topics in a really nice and simple way and talking to them in a tone that is really very human.”
The strategy is paying off for the company. Everplans has raised over $15 million to date, most recently closing a $6 million Series A in June.
Learn more about Everplans on its site.
The term “estate planning” generally includes documents such as a Last Will & Testament, financial power of attorney, health care power of attorney and maybe a trust. However, to address the growing online presence of individuals from young to old, estate planning has grown to include planning of an individual’s digital assets on their death or disability as well. In fact, recent articles suggest that the average user possesses upwards of 90 online accounts. What exactly happens to those accounts when your clients die?
Many people assume that an executor or a family member will gain access to the accounts, but for many states, that is not currently the case. The laws in most states do not grant an executor or family member access to online accounts at the time the owner passes away. The Model Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (UFADAA) was drafted to provide states with consistent rules and procedures for accessing digital information, however, many digital access providers have vigorously fought to stop states from passing legislation similar to the UFADAA. In an effort to take a step forward, some states have passed slimmed down legislation to allow limited access to certain accounts, such as email. In addition to state laws, each individual digital access provider has their own rules and requirements for gaining access to personal information.
Because access to digital accounts following the death of a family member can be daunting, it is important that clients implement an effective digital estate plan. The principles which guide traditional estate planning are also applicable to digital estate planning. Keeping important documents updated and in a place where family members and/or an executor can access the information is especially important with digital accounts. Most people have a myriad of email addresses, passwords, pin numbers, reset questions, thumbprints, secret knocks and code phrases that grant us access to our accounts. However, how many of those access keys are accessible by a family member and/or executor?
There are currently four methods to transfer access upon death: written instructions, access through specific digital providers, password managers and digital legacy services.
Many digital users record their passwords and access information and store the instructions in a secure place, such as a personal safe or safe deposit box. If the information is updated regularly and stored in a safe location, this can be the cheapest and simplest method to transfer access to a surviving family member or executor. However, because passwords and other login information change regularly, it is important that the written instructions be updated regularly as well. The necessary upkeep of recording and storing this information can require a significant time investment.
Many digital account providers are beginning to provide solutions to this issue. For example, Facebook now allows users to designate a profile executor who can access the account upon the death of the account creator. Twitter allows the person authorized to act on behalf of the deceased person to request an account to be deactivated. Email providers, like Google and Yahoo, will consider granting access to an account (or certain limited information) by the authorized person following a review of a written request, and a Gmail user can designate an Inactive Account Manager who may access certain information if the account is inactive for a designated period. While these individual solutions are helpful, it is difficult to prepare each account to be accessed by a surviving family member or executor, since each provider has different rules.
Third party password managers, like LastPass, KeePass and Dashlane, all provide methods to send access information to certain designated individuals on the death of the user. Generally, all password managers have the ability to share stored information with others; however, some password managers provide springing access. For example, LastPass allows users to choose one or more accounts to which they want to grant access and send an advance email to any individual. The email contains a link, which once activated, begins a countdown clock. During the designated timeframe, the original sender has the ability to reject access. In the event that the original sender does…
What happens to your digital property when you die? This can be a very challenging issue for your executor when settling your estate.
You can make your executor’s job easier by listing all the electronic devices and online services that you use. With a letter of direction, you can tell your executor what should happen to them after you die.
Use an address book or worksheet to alphabetically list your devices and online accounts. Then tell your executor where to find your list. User names and passwords on your inventory list are the keys to open the doors to your electronic devices and keep online accounts active.
Remember that Canada’s privacy laws make it difficult for your executor to take over the online accounts of another person. When you sign up for an online account, the terms of service agreement restricts access to the account-holder only. That means you cannot bequeath your social media account, video game account, or gambling account to a beneficiary even if they have great value.
In the U.S., many states have created laws to give an executor the right to access and manage digital assets of a dead person. No similar laws have been enacted in Canada yet. Until our laws are updated and service providers change their policies, Canadians can include clauses in their wills that give executors permission to deal with digital assets.
Your executor can browse your email messages to track down estate assets. Email messages give clues about bills to be paid. Email reminders to download T5 and T4RIF slips can lead to financial accounts. Your emails will reveal confirmations of business, gaming, streaming and shopping transactions.
Maybe you have YouTube videos or a blog that generates advertising revenue. If you are receiving thousands of dollars per month in payments from ad clicks, your executor would want to maintain that revenue stream.
Do you own a valuable domain name? Remind your executor to pay the fee to renew the registration until the domain name is sold.
Your executor should find all your electronic hardware such as smartphones, tablets or laptop computers. Keep these devices and safeguard them until data can be extracted. Once all online accounts have been closed or transferred, electronic devices can be stripped and passed along with other estate assets.
After you have died, your executor can access and delete your Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts by knowing your passwords. What if the family wants continued access to their loved one’s online photos and personal messages? Social media websites will eventually take steps to protect privacy as a standard security procedure.
Facebook allows family members to either delete or “memorialize” the accounts of a deceased user. In a memorialized account, a person’s existing friends network can leave comments and photos but nobody has permission to log in or edit the account.
Music, e-books and photos
Who gets your collection of digital photos and videos in online cloud storage and social media sites after you die? Some digital assets cannot be legally bequeathed to anyone. You pay for a personal licence to use digital files, such as iTunes music and e-books. These personal rights expire when the user dies.
Even if you bequeath your iPad to a family member, you cannot bequeath the apps you have purchased and installed on your iPad.
Thieves can use a dead person’s information to create a fake identity to rack up credit card charges and apply for loans. Your executor can safeguard the estate by notifying credit agencies of the death.
Terry McBride, a member of Advocis, works with Raymond James Ltd. The views of the author do not necessarily reflect those of Raymond James Ltd. Information is from sources believed reliable but cannot be guaranteed. This is provided for information only. We recommend that clients seek independent advice from a professional adviser on tax-related matters. Securities offered through Raymond James Ltd., member of the Canadian Investor Protection Fund. Insurance services offered through Raymond James Financial Planning Ltd., not a member of the Canadian Investor Protection Fund.