[ NOTE: I wrote the first version of this article in 2010. The article was one of the earliest practical articles on digital estate planning and, in its own way, was influential. It is also one of many of my articles that can no longer be found on the […]
In the year and a half since I last wrote about planning for digital assets not much has changed in Massachusetts. Our state is still one of a handful of states that has not enacted the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (RUFADAA) , although there is […]
What happens to email, usernames, passwords, banking information, social media and blogs when an individual dies? It’s a question most people haven’t considered, but should. Without proper planning and documentation, online information may become inaccessible and may eventually cease to exist. Today, almost everyone has some type of online […]
The average American owns 90 online accounts and likely has no idea what happens to these assets when he/she dies. You can protect & preserve your digital assets through digital estate planning.
(firmenpresse) – [Digital Estate Planning](https://digitalestateplanning.com) is new legal frontier in estate planning and estate administration due to the mass proliferation of computers, smartphones, tablets, apps and online accounts like banking, investment, photos, cloud drives and more.
Did you know that you have a digital estate? You may think you dont, but if you are reading this blog you probably do. What is your digital estate? Similar to your traditional estate, your digital estate is comprised of the digital assets you own. Take a look at the following categories of digital assets which are considered in any comprehensive [digital estate plan](https://stephenpstewartlaw.com/digital-estate-planning/):
1. Hardware: computers, external hard drives or flash drives, tablets, smartphones, digital music players, e-readers, digital cameras, and other digital devices that can be used to store date electronically
2. Data: Any information or data that is stored electronically, whether stored online, in the cloud, or on a physical device
3. Online Accounts: email and communications accounts, social media accounts, shopping accounts, money and credit accounts such as PayPal, bank accounts, loyalty rewards accounts, photo and video sharing accounts, video gaming accounts, online storage accounts, and websites and blogs that you may manage, including any content you’ve posted to those sites, any communication and correspondence made through and stored on those sites, your personal information, credit card information, purchase and browsing history and any credit you may have and the information necessary to access those accounts.
4. Domain names
5. Intellectual property: including copyrighted materials, trademarks, and any code you may have written and own.
How many of these assets do you own? What happens to your digital estate? These are common questions that many people have as they begin to think about the implications of how many digital assets or online accounts they actually own and how many of them actually contain really important data or files.
The average American owns 90 online accounts and likely has no idea what happens to these assets when he or she dies. Do you? If not, dont feel bad. This is a very hard question to answer because the answer depends on several things, including:
1. Federal Law: The Electronic Communications Privacy Act (the ECPA), as amended, specifically, 18 U.S.C. Â§2702. The ECPA governs the voluntary disclosure of stored electronic content to third parties other than the owner by custodians of the electronic content. The rules are complex and there are different standards and requirements depending on, among other things, the nature of stored data and whether the account holder was the recipient or sender of the electronic communication.
2. State Law – The North Carolina Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (the NC Act). The NC Act prescribes rules and procedures by which fiduciaries such as executors and agents under powers of attorney may access stored electronic communications and content within the limits and rules prescribed by the ECPA.
3. The Terms of Service Agreement for each online account, such as Facebook, Google, and Yahoo!, have specific procedures for handling your account upon your incapacity or death and vary greatly in their flexibility, ease of use and degree of access granted to third parties, such as executors and agents under powers of attorney. For example, Google provides an Inactive Account Manager tool which allows you to designate persons to receive notice and/or access your stored content after a specified period of inactivity. You can also direct that the stored content be deleted. Other providers such as Apple and Yahoo provide that neither the account nor the stored content is transferrable at death. Rather, the account will be closed and the content deleted once they are notified of the death of the account holder.
How do you plan for your digital estate with so many variables and different providers?
Having established that (1) you have a digital estate; and (2) the rules governing your digital estate are complex, what do you do?
1. List all of your digital assets and how to access each and every one.
2. Decide what you want done with each digital asset you own, including whether they should be deleted, archived, or transferred to specific persons, such as family members or business partners.
3. Determine who you want to be responsible for managing and transferring your digital estate.
4. Determine what will be required to transfer, close, delete or otherwise manage your digital assets in each account. You should also provide for access to all devices such as computers, tablets and smartphones on which digital content is stored.
5. Consult with a qualified estate planning professional to formalize your digital estate plan and/or coordinate it with your traditional estate plan. In order to take advantage of some of the protections offered by state law such as the NC Act, you must include specific language in a will, trust, power of attorney or other document. TIP: Do not include usernames and passwords in a will, power of attorney or other document that may become part of the public record.
6. Store this information in a secure, but accessible place.
7. Review and update this information regularly.
In order to ensure that your digital assets are properly managed and preserved in the event of your incapacity or death, you need to make special advanced arrangements so your executor, trustee or agent will know what to do and will have the legal authority to do it. If you fail to properly plan for your digital estate, your loved ones will have a difficult time accessing your digital assets and, in some cases, access to accounts will be terminated and all digital content lost. Be proactive. Plan now. Get help.
BSides Manchester What happens to the numerous user logins you’ve accumulated after you die or become too infirm to manipulate a keyboard?
Some people have a plan, the digital equivalent of living will, or have chosen “family” option in a password management package such as LastPass or have entrusted a book of passwords to a family member.
But the consequences of doing nothing are not as neutral as some might expect and were spelled out during an informative presentation by Chris Boyd of Malwarebyes at BSides in Manchester on Thursday. The presentation, cheerily titled “The digital entropy of death”, covered what could happen to your carefully curated online presence after you log off.
Miscreants are already targeting obviously abandoned profiles. Boyd explained that in some cases it’s easier for fraudsters to gain hold of these accounts than the account-holders’ relatives, because crooks know the systems better and controls – although present – are often deeply embedded on the sites such as Facebook, Twitter et al.
“Facebook users have reported receiving friend requests from accounts associated with dead friends and family members,” The Independent reports. “Such requests appear to be the result of cloning or hacking scams that see criminals try [to] add people on the site, and then use that friendship as a way of stealing money from them or running other cons.”
Social media accounts are, of course, just the tip of the iceberg. Most people these days run 100+ accounts, as figures from password management software apps show. These figures are only increasing over time. Some sites are managing the inevitability of their users shuffling off this mortal coil with features designed to deactivate accounts after months of inactivity or other features, Boyd explained in a recent blog post:
Many sites now offer a way for relatives and executors to memorialise, or just delete, an account. In other circumstances, services would rather you ‘self-manage’ and plan ahead for your own demise (cheerful!) by setting a ticking timer. If the account is inactive for the specified length of time, then into the great digital ether it goes.
While a lot of services don’t openly advertise what to do in the event of a death on their website, they will give advice should you contact them, whether social network, email service, or web host. When there’s no option available, though, people will forge their own path and take care of their so-called ‘digital estate planning’ themselves.
Users would be ill-advised to leave everything to their next of kin. “Do some pre-handover diligence, and take some time to ensure everything is locked down tight,” Boyd explained. “If there’s anything hugely important you need them to know, tell them in advance.”
People may have bought digital purchases tied to certain platforms. Games on Steam, or music on iTunes or Spotify.
“Legally, when you go, so do your files (in as much as anything you can’t download and keep locally is gone forever),” Boyd explained. “That’s because you’re buying into a licence to use a thing, as opposed to buying the thing itself.”
Here’s a video of his presentation, if you want to see more…
There’s nothing stopping someone from passing on a login to a family member so they can continue to make use of all the purchased content, at least for now. Boyd predicted that at some point, all of our digital accounts tied to financial purchases will have some sort of average human lifespan timer attached to them.
Millennials mark the first generation not to know life before an always-on, everywhere internet, which will become the norm from now on. “Younger generations absolutely will demand reforms to the way we think about digital content, ownership, and inheritance,” Boyd concluded. ®
As well as the inevitable rise and fall of social media site (e.g. MySpace), and web 2.0 services there is also the issue of link rot, the phenomenon of more and more URLs not working over time. This issue is covered by Boyd in another recent blog post here.