Motivation Traditional technologies protect a user’s privacy by upholding the basic information security directive that the user, and only the user, have sole exclusive custody and knowledge of his keys. They also assume, both in theory and in practice, that the user is immortal and perennially healthy. The corollary […]
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.
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.
Recently, a notice popped up when I logged in to LinkedIn asking me if I wanted to endorse my friend Larry for certain skills and expertise. I think so highly of him, and I would willingly endorse him. There’s just one problem. Larry passed away several years ago.
What happens to your digital life when you die? Who can pay your electronic bills, shut off automatic debits to your checking account, and let your Facebook friends know you’re gone or get into your email account? Digital estate planning is the process of answering all those questions in advance, so that your survivors can easily wind down your digital financial presence and continue or discontinue your online and social media presence according to your wishes. A digital estate plan is essential to a well-constructed overall basic estate plan, which also includes a will, guardianship provisions for any minor children, beneficiary selections, an advance medical directive (e.g., living will), and durable powers of attorney for healthcare and finances.
Choose a digital executor
An “executor” is the person who carries out the instructions outlined in your estate plan. You’ll need to identify a trustworthy – and computer-savvy—person to be your digital executor and name them in your will. That may or may not be the same person who is your overall estate executor (who will have final authority over how your wishes are carried out).
Who would you want to control your website, blog or social media accounts after your death? If for some reason they were not available, who would be your backup choice? Make sure your digital executor knows you’ve chosen them as well as whom to contact in the event of your death. Discuss your overall goals for your online presence.
Take an inventory of your digital assets
If something happened to you, what tracks would you leave in cyberspace? Pull together everything in a central list:
- Bank and brokerage accounts
- Employee benefits accounts, such as 401(k), FSA, HSA, etc.
- Credit card and loan accounts
- Other bills you pay online such as utilities, car loan, mortgage or gym memberships
- PayPal, Apple Pay, Starbucks and other digital wallets
- Amazon and other retail accounts
- Cell phone account
- Your blog or website
- Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Meetup, Snapchat, etc.
- Music and video websites (Pandora, YouTube, Vimeo, Sonos, etc.)
Home and Office
- Security system, heating/cooling, etc.
- Computer and phone systems
Organize and store login information and passwords
This can be nerve-wracking. The best protection against identity theft is not to write your passwords down. Where will you store access information for all these accounts?
Consider a password vault or password manager. This will allow you to create one strong password you can remember and will also prompt you to update your weaker passwords for each of these sites. You would then create a way to get the master password to your digital executor upon your death. Don’t know where to start? PC Magazine compares the top choices here.
In any case, don’t just give the entire account and password list to your attorney to store in their paper files. That is too risky. Consider an encrypted digital estate planning storage system such as Everplan or Principled Heart. An alternative could be to write them down and then keep them in a safe or safe deposit box. However, make sure your spouse or executor knows the combination to the safe or has the key to the safe deposit box!
Leave written instructions
Take some time to write down clear and comprehensive instructions, especially for websites and social media. What should happen with these accounts if you die? Should they be closed or taken down or maintained in memoriam? Who inherits them? Who manages them?
Check the user agreements of those sites to make sure your wishes can be implanted. Make sure your choice of digital executor is named in your written will. Don’t have a will? Check first with your HR department to see if you have access to a will creation program or legal consultation through a prepaid legal plan or employee assistance program.