McBride: Digital estate planning

McBride: Digital estate planning

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.

Online business

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.

Electronic devices

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.

Social media

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.

Identity theft

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.

Is Your Digital Life Ready for Your Death?

Digital Estate Planning in One Day

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

Online/Social Media

  • Your blog or website
  • Email
  • 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
  • Voicemail

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.

Dead Facebook Users will Outnumber the Living by 2098

Digital estate planning – choice

We’re rapidly accumulating digital assets as we build extensive collections of photos, social media posts, cloud files, websites, lists of passwords and logins, music and movie collections, ebooks … and the list goes on. But who will own your digital heritage when you die? And can you bequeath your iTunes library to your kids? In this article: Do you own your ebooks and digital music files? Creating a personal register Creating a social media archive Creating an online digital archive Online memorialisation

after you’re gone Do you need a digital executor? Tips for managing your digital legacy Is a DIY will good enough to secure your family’s future after you’re gone?

Find out in our will kit reviews. Do you ‘own’ your ebooks and digital music files? You may be shocked to learn that you don’t ‘own’ the music, movies and ebooks that you’ve bought online in the same way as you own physical books and other media. When you buy a movie or music file, you’re actually buying a license to ‘use’ the content – and it’s for your own use only.

What this means is that you can’t bequeath your music or movie collection to loved ones in your will by transferring the ownership of the files from your ID to theirs. Creating a personal register If you want to save loved ones the worry of losing your precious digital life at a time when they’re dealing with all the immediate issues when someone passes away, some pre-planning of your digital legacy can really help them out. To start getting a sense of your digital resources, you’ll need to create a register. It’s basically a list of everything you can think of that comes under the banner of ‘digital’, organised into relevant categories. The National and State Libraries Australasia has advice on this.

Logins and passwords Write down the website address along with login and password details for all your online accounts. This will include email, social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, blogs and other financial sites, government services, shopping sites, phone and internet accounts, as well as the multitude of other sites you use at any time. Note that banks forbid recording your PIN unless it’s adequately disguised. Check the terms and conditions on your bank’s website for specific details for your account.

If you’ve recorded this information on paper, put the document in a home safe or other secure place. If you’re going to store the details on your computer, use encryption to protect the document and always run up-to-date security software to protect your files. Purchased music, movies and ebooks Next step is to list all of your purchased music, movies, ebooks, digital newspaper and magazine subscriptions including the platforms such as iTunes or Google Play store with login ID and passwords. This will let you (and your loved ones) see what you’ve got in the way of digital entertainment, but you probably can’t just gift them in a will. Personal photos and videos Many people have gigabytes of digital photos and videos and they can be spread across Flickr, iCloud, Picassa and Google Photos to name just a few. Then there are likely to be lots of files stored on your home computer or storage drive. It’s worth having multiple copies of precious photos on DVD or a store drive and cloud storage.

List the platforms where photos and videos are located as well as login details so your family can find and download files. Cloud storage Evernote, DropBox, Google Drive, iCloud, OneDrive – there are host of cloud storage services where you can have files and other documents stored. You might want to do a bit of housekeeping and clean out any old or unwanted files and then outline what’s stored in any cloud storage platform, what’s important and what’s not worth keeping. Once again, be sure that you note the website link and include login and password details for all sites. Social media posts If you’re an avid user of social media sites including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and so on, then you’ll likely have a rather large amount of posts, photos and tweets and other contributions. This virtual life is in its own way a slice of your life and something worth keeping and remembering.

Some sites such as Facebook let you pre-decide to have your account memorialised (retained but locked from changes) or deleted when you pass away. Note the URL, login and password for these sites if you want them managed on your behalf. Save your virtual life with a social media archive If you’re curious about what your profile looks like, then you can create your own archive on some sites such as Facebook. Facebook Archive is a downloadable record of your account to save all the photos, comments and status updates that you’ve shared.

Facebook Memorialisation will automatically lock the profile when Facebook has been notified that someone is deceased, but the site won’t provide login information even after death. Accounts can also be deleted. Twitter Archive will download your entire history of tweets and retweets so you can store it for posterity. Google Takeout is a way to archive your information from a range of services including Drive, Photos, Mail and Profile. Accounts can also be deleted.

See google. com/takeout. YouTube Archive will download and save all video uploads in their original file type. What about an online digital archive? There are keepsake and storage sites such as YourDigitalFile and LifeMaps that will chronicle your life, and MyVault that offers secure storage. They have individual security provisions, but most allow you and a nominated person to access the information if you’re incapacitated.

You should need to prove your identity and the identity of any nominees with the 100-point security check and it should use strong encryption to protect logins and passwords. We haven’t tried any of these sites so we can’t recommend them, but we advise you to check their security as well as pricing for ongoing storage. In particular, before you sign up for any secure storage service, read through its privacy statement and contact the site if you need further clarification on how they secure your previous personal information. See the CHOICE wireless routers review to safely secure your home network. Online memorialisation Many funeral homes are now establishing an online memorial for loved ones. It’s a place to leave and share thoughts and photos about somebody who’s passed away.

These sites can be useful for relatives and friends a distance away who didn’t attend the funeral but still want to pay their respect. Heaven Address is a site used by many funeral homes in Australia, while sites like MemorialMatters, Imorial and MuchLoved let you create a public memorial for a loved one or even a public figure or celebrity that you want to remember. And if you want to ease loved ones’ suffering after you’re gone, you can make messages to be sent posthumously – a bit like a letter or video message to be read or viewed after you’ve departed. Sites such as MyGoodbyeMessage will send pre-prepared notes, emails, videos and other messages to friends and family. Do you need a digital executor?

A traditional executor is responsible for your will, but it may be worth nominating someone as a digital executor to help manage your digital affairs (although this isn’t a legally recognised role). When planning your estate, consider putting an e-register with your official will. Agencies such as the State Trustees of Victoria recommend this to help loved ones manage your accounts. The State Trustees site has further advice on estate planning.

Privacy can potentially be an issue when accessing and managing or controlling someone else’s accounts. It could involve dealing with emails, files and other documents that relate to other people. While privacy laws don’t apply to deceased people, documents or anything referred to living people are still legally subject to privacy laws. There are commonwealth privacy laws as well as individual state and territory privacy laws. Tips for managing your digital legacy Transferring ownership of digital assets isn’t as straightforward as physical assets such as property. Ownership of digital media such as music and ebooks will depend on the terms of use for the service.

Transferring IDs on digital devices such as iPads may require a death certificate and application to the manufacturer. Some online services allow access by authorised agents while others require a death certificate for someone else to access and/or close the account. Check the privacy and security criteria before signing up for any online document storage services. To get help with the best way to preserve your digital legacy, Digital Beyond has helpful articles on many aspect of digital estate planning, and Digital Heritage has a wealth of information on managing your digital legacy. The ACCAN has a paper on digital heritage for consumers.

Digital Asset Planning: Who Will Care for Your Pokémon When You’re Gone?

Attorney J. Kenneth Harris Examines Digital Estate Planning

Attorney J. Kenneth Harris, founder of Harris Law Offices, in light of a December 3, 2015, U.S. News & World Report article about what happens to digital legacies when one dies, discusses the importance of digital effects in estate plans.

Haddon Heights, NJ (PRWEB) January 29, 2016

“If your computer, laptop or tablet is password protected, how does someone access these devices in the event of your demise?” said J. Kenneth Harris, who focuses on probate and estate planning. “If you have everything online, how is anyone to discover your accounts?”

According to the U.S. News & World Report article, having all this information in one place is crucial in the event of an emergency or death. Additionally, if someone is incapable of accessing the assets of a loved one that has passed, those assets can disappear.

To ensure your assets are passed on, Harris strongly recommends making a thorough inventory of all your digital assets, listing the name/service provider of the asset, the nature or type of account, the user name, password and answers to security questions.

This list should be kept with your will, power of attorney and other important papers. Once you have made this list you then need to decide what should be done with these accounts: closed, transferred to someone else (i.e. bank accounts for the purpose of estate administration), etc.

“You will need to appoint someone to manage these digital assets, who may or may not be the same person you name as executor of your will,” said Harris.

“You also might want the person managing your digital assets to be more comfortable with computers, online services and be more tech-savvy than the person you name as the executor/administrator of your estate.”

Lastly, since the laws in this area are still developing, one should provide specific instructions as to what they want done with these digital assets and authority granted to your digital personal representative to manage and dispose of digital assets. This is particularly important since most states do not have laws addressing what happens to digital assets upon the death of the owner. “This problem is further compounded by each provider having their own service provider agreement and different ways to deal with this issue,” said Harris.

About J. Kenneth Harris, Harris Law Offices
J. Kenneth Harris, founder of Harris Law Offices, which has been in business for more than 20 years, handles a variety of probate and estate planning matters, including probate administration, wills, trusts, living revocable trusts, charitable planning and retirement plan distribution. He also represents clients in other legal matters such as commercial law, transactional law and real estate. For more information or a free consultation, please call (856) 681-0429. The office is located at 2 White Horse Pike, Haddon Heights, NJ 08035.

About the NALA™
The NALA offers local business owners new online advertising & small business marketing tools, great business benefits, education and money-saving programs, as well as a charity program. For media inquiries, please call 805.650.6121, ext. 361.

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What is Digital Estate Planning and Why Do I Need it?

What is Digital Estate Planning and Why Do I Need it?

estate planning

Creating a personalized estate plan has become more and more important these days. Estate plans nowadays need to include digital estate planning as well. What does that mean? A digital asset is basically anything that is either based on a computer or involves the internet. Common examples are email accounts and online businesses. Who will inherit those unique assets when you pass away? Better yet, why is it important?

Digital assets are more and more common

Communications technology has become more and more popular. As this has happened, digital assets have also become more common. Only a decade ago, not many of us would have even considered a phone to be one of our most important possessions. Today, however, most of us rely almost entirely on our cell phones to communicate, conduct business, store sensitive information, and much more. Although the phone itself is not a digital asset, the information it contains is an asset. Cell phones are also a way to access other digital assets you might own.

What does digital estate planning involve?

Digital estate planning involves issues such as how to protect the assets contained on a cell phone or laptop; who will have the authority to access your email accounts and online bank accounts. More importantly, who will have the basic knowledge that these various digital assets even exist? Consider this example. You sell items online using an eBay or PayPal account, which is linked to your bank account. Someone needs to know how to access those accounts and be allowed to transfer money if you become incapacitated, for instance. Even after you die, your executor needs to know which accounts exist and how to access them. You also need to decide who will ultimately inherit them. This is what a digital estate plan is for.

Times have surely changed

Historically, an estate has consisted of a will, trusts, power of attorney appointment, life insurance policies, and any property that a person owned, including financial accounts. Back then, paper documentation was the only method of recording these estate planning tools and they would often be collected in a folder in a safe or desk drawer. That way, family members would easily be able to find the information after the person passed away. Other information, like bank statements and bills, could be obtained through the mail.

Now, however, most of this information is routinely digitized. So your financial, business, personal, and administrative documents will likely exist in a digital form. While many people manage their finances, businesses, and personal lives online, very few actually have organized or centralized accounts. This can mean that managing and distributing these digital assets will be very difficult after the owner has died, and can lead to confusion, or even worse, denial of access.

Why digital access is important even after death

Even though you may have a business with an actual building, you are certain to still have some digital assets that are tied to that business, such as online access to a bank account. In that situation, there is still significant value in being able to access the online components of your accounts because they can provide easy access to key information that may be necessary for settling your estate.

What can a digital estate plan really do for my family?

There are many ways a digital estate plan can be very helpful to your family. Here are a few examples:

  • Locate any accounts you have online
  • Access those accounts or the information in those accounts
  • Determine if your digital property has any financial value that needs to be reported and perhaps submitted to probate
  • Distribute or transfer any digital assets to the appropriate parties
  • Avoid online identity theft

Why small businesses generally need an estate plan

In general, estate planning can protect your business assets from taxes, control how your assets will be distributed and more. Everyone benefits from a basic estate plan, no matter what their wealth or status may bees. This is also true for small business and family-owned businesses. Understanding why small businesses need an estate plan will help you in making decisions on how to organize and business and plan for succession of that business.

Join us for a free seminar! If you have questions regarding digital assets, or any other estate planning needs, please contact the experienced estate planning lawyers at the Schomer Law Group for a consultation, either online or by calling us at (310) 337-7696.