Creating an Effective Digital Estate Plan

Creating an Effective Digital Estate Plan

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.

Written Instructions

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.

Digital Providers

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.

Password Managers

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…

How Dubliners deal with death

How Dubliners deal with death

Death is part of the human condition but how we manage it is always evolving. The authors of a new book chart rise of garden cemeteries, undertakers and crematoriums

The establishment of garden cemeteries at Glasnevin (1832), Mount Jerome, above, (1836) and Deansgrange (1865) meant that most funerals required transport, leading to the emergence of the undertaker
The establishment of garden cemeteries at Glasnevin (1832), Mount Jerome, above, (1836) and Deansgrange (1865) meant that most funerals required transport, leading to the emergence of the undertaker

What can a study of death tell us about society? While death is one of the constants of life it is as susceptible to trends as any other part of life. It is tempting to say that we have sanitised death in twenty-first century Ireland and that with a decline in practices such as wakes, removals and wearing mourning clothes, the process of bereavement is shorter and our engagement with death briefer.

As the vast majority of people now die in hospitals we have less engagement with the bodies of our loved ones and the responsibility of preparing them for death falls to professionals. This is perhaps why we turn to digital memorials to mourn our loss and create a public display of bereavement. Recent research into attitudes to death, burial practices and memorials in Dublin over five centuries shows that change is not a twenty-first century phenomenon.

Fear of dying and the pain of bereavement come to all of us, as much today as in the past. They enable us to share an emotion experienced by our ancestors, and indeed by most humans who ever lived. But do we really feel the same as they did about death? Do we behave in the same way or are our responses shaped by the context of our own times? The changing social, political, medical and technological circumstances in Dublin since 1500 have produced an intriguing range of responses to death, burial and remembering.

The historical context and individual circumstances of death are equally important. Poorer Dubliners buried in the city’s crowded graveyards in the seventeenth century did not expect their families to mark the grave with a stone, while their social superiors were interred indoors beneath engraved slabs which paved the church aisles. The practice of marking ordinary graves grew in the more prosperous eighteenth century and became a social expectation among the middle class a century later. Today, the indignity of leaving a grave unmarked could bring shame on a family. So strong is this desire to mark a final resting place that, following a cremation, a “gravestone” or memorial plaque is erected even though there is no grave.

The individual circumstances and broader context combined in 1918-19, when more than 2,500 Dubliners died during the Spanish flu outbreak. The city’s doctors and cemeteries struggled to keep up with certification and burial. Thousands of families felt the individual pain of bereavement brought about by global events. Two years earlier the bereaved families of executed rebels struggled to cope with shattering personal loss and national celebrity status – both equally unwanted.

Such notable deaths happened amid the constant daily stream of “ordinary” deaths, burials and remembering that are part of life. The management of such a regular event has evolved over time. Before the expansion of the suburbs mourners might follow the coffin on the short walk from the family home to the parish graveyard, where the sexton had arranged to open the grave. As medical science advanced, however, people trusted to hospitals in their final illness. So when the inevitable happened the family might face a problem of transporting the remains some distance to their parish churchyard for burial.

When Dublin spilled beyond the canals from the 1840s this logistical issue became more common and a commercial solution emerged in the form of funeral undertakers. The establishment of garden cemeteries at Glasnevin (1832), Mount Jerome (1836) and Deansgrange (1865) meant that most funerals required transport. Some elite funerals in the previous century had used upholsterers acting as “undertakers” to build elaborate settings for sombre, draped catafalques, but now the general public demanded more practical arrangements. Firms such as Fanagans, Corrigans, Nichols and others offered a range of services from basic transportation of the remains to supplying the coffin, mourning coach and flowers.

The Nichols family operated livery stables around Lombard Street, hiring horses and carriages to the city’s merchants, day-trippers and visitors. The company’s archives show the gradual evolution into funeral undertaking; in 1857 they first advertised this aspect of their services, in 1865 Nichols were listed as undertakers in a Dublin trades directory and in 1890 they opened a coffin-making factory. Repeat business across generations of Dublin families, and good business practice, ensured that careful records were required and – importantly for historians – were preserved. Such seemingly specific commercial archives can tell us a great deal about life, death and business in Dublin since the nineteenth century.

Dublin’s reliance on horse-drawn transport is evident from these records, demonstrating that not only were livery stables a basic necessity but reminding us that the work of farriers, saddle-makers, coachbuilders and other specialist trades kept hundreds of families fed, not to mention the feed suppliers, bloodstock dealers and the scavengers who kept the streets clear of horse manure.

The arrival of the motor car and the telephone were as important to undertakers as to other businesses. To see their early use itemised in account books shows how precious these technologies were and the progressive attitudes at work. Changes in mourners’ requirements and expectations also appear in these ledgers. Where the earlier entries might record a hearse and pine or oak coffin, the typical list lengthens as we move into the twentieth century. A mourning car (or perhaps two) for the family, flowers ordered by those unable to attend the funeral, an organist to play in the church, death notices in local and national newspapers and memorial cards with a photograph all became part of the standard funeral.

The opening of the city’s first crematorium at Glasnevin in 1982 brought further changes to the funeral service and to the undertaker’s business, urns and plaques replaced coffins and headstones. With a fourth crematorium opening by the end of 2016 it is not surprising to learn that less half of all funerals in the city end at an open grave.

New technologies and changing social behaviour have altered the presence, or manifestations, of death in other ways. Questions arise over social media profiles when a person dies; detailed help-pages tell you how to adjust your profile settings on Facebook in preparation for your absence, other websites give tips on using a Facebook profile as a memorial wall. To prevent your loved one from continuing to appear on Tinder is straightforward if you know their password, but what about email accounts, websites, domain names and online storage accounts you may own?

A “digital estate” plan is recommended, in which you set out your wishes for your online assets after death. But perhaps the change brought by new media is not so great. The ease with which people have taken to the RIP.ie site shows that the power (and appeal) of the death notice in the paper, or the announcement in church, function just as well online.

We may have had enough centenary events to last a lifetime, but this year reminds us that death and bereavement still take centre stage in Irish life. Not only have we used the centenary to reflect on the lives of the 1916 leaders, but we have used it as an opportunity to review and reflect on our progress as a nation. These anniversaries can remind us not just what we have lost, but how much we have changed.

Grave Matters: Death and dying in Dublin, 1500 to the present by Lisa Marie Griffith and Ciarán Wallace is published by Four Courts Press, at €24.95

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.

Inventory

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.

Email

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:

Financial:

  • 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.

Digital Estate Plan

Digital Estate Plan

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If you are using older estate planning tools, there could be a section missing. Does anyone know about items you have in “cloud” storage? Would they know how to close your Facebook or Twitter accounts? Would they know to contact a business to stop automatic withdrawals for subscriptions or utility payments?

Here’s a list to get you thinking about items to include in your personal inventory under the category: Electronic

  • Your Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social media accounts.
  • Blogs and websites you own.
  • Bank, brokerage, retirement plan, credit card, loan, and insurance accounts that you access online.
  • Your email accounts.
  • Online retail accounts and apps from stores: eBay, Amazon, iTunes etc..
  • Photo- or video-sharing sites like Flickr or YouTube.
  • PayPal or other online payment accounts.
  • Utility bills you pay online.
  • Any other online accounts such as ones from airline sites with your frequent flier miles and document and data storage accounts like Google Docs.

Keep the list in a secure location with the passwords in a different spot, perhaps use a secure password app. Find someone you trust and share the location of the information, then update the list when you make changes. It’s also a good idea to visit the sites when you have time to review their inactivity policies. Some companies are catching up to this reality of a deceased client and are asking you to set up steps they should follow if your account is not used for a set period of time.