5 tips for digital estate planning

5 tips for digital estate planning

Most clients have made plans to dispose of their tangible property after they’ve gone. But these days, people have an awful lot of intangible property to deal with as well.

No one is too worried about what’s going to happen to their Twitter account, but there are some significant financial issues that should be considered when it comes to a client’s digital footprint. Many advisors have even gone so far as to set up digital estate plans for their more wired clients.

Clients considering a digital estate plan should focus on their financial life online, which for many of us has grown into a many tentacled beast. Here are some things to keep in mind:

Clients should maintain a list of all the financial sites they access. Some of these are obvious, like bank and brokerage accounts, credit cards, mortgage accounts, loans, utility bills and other online payments. Others are less obvious, such as accounts at places like Amazon, eBay and iTunes. There are also online payment accounts, such as PayPal, that should be noted.

The deposit accounts, which may seem like the most serious concern, are probably the least of the client’s worries. The money in those accounts will be accounted for in the client’s will, and banks and brokerages are used to dealing with customers who pass away.

Other accounts may require more attention. The client may have money in a PayPal account or may have debts to be paid because of eBay purchases. There may be transferable benefits from a frequent-flyer account. These aren’t likely to be significant amounts of money, but they still ought to be accounted for.

The client should name a “digital executor.” This is the person empowered to deal with all the client’s digital assets, and he or she should have access to the list of online accounts, including all passwords and directions. There’s no legal status for this person, but it should be someone whom the client trusts and who has a facility with online maneuvering. (A grandchild might be a good choice.)

See also: How to use old-fashioned selling methods in a new media age

Google, which is generally ahead of the curve, has created a program that can be of help in this area. Google’s Inactive Account Manager allows the client to name an heir of sorts who can gain access to the client’s online data once his or her accounts have been inactive for a certain period of time.

Are there digital heirlooms worth preserving? Aside from the financial considerations, most of us live a good deal of our personal lives online. It’s worth your clients’ time to consider how much of this should be curated after they’re gone. Perhaps the have a personal or company website they’d like to see continued. Perhaps they have a blog they’d rather see shut down than persist into eternity. Maybe they have accumulated photos on Facebook or Instagram that they’d like to see put into the hands of the proper persons before they disappear into the ether. Most clients haven’t thought about this issue and would likely appreciate their advisor’s concern, even if they do absolutely nothing about it.

Find a safe place to put all this information. Security is of prime concern here, since identity theft could be a real problem if all the information fell into the wrong hands. A printed copy of all passwords and other data, kept in a safe or other secure place, could be one option.

There are online solutions as well. Legacy Locker stores all your information in the cloud and requires the client to name two separate people to contact in case of death. (They even have to provide a copy of the death certificate.) That prevents anyone from trying to claim the client has died in order to get to their data. Legacy Locker also lets the client name different beneficiaries for different online accounts. A similar offering, Secure Safe, is from Switzerland — and the Swiss know their way around secure accounts.

A different type of security is provided by Javont Vault, which doesn’t connect to the Internet at all but simply sits on your home PC. That keeps hackers and other breaches to a minimum. The client’s digital executor would be the only other person granted access to the account.

Finally, put a plan in writing. No one is going to go digging around the decedent’s computer looking for postmortem instructions. Make sure their wishes are clear and easily findable. When it comes to one’s online legacy, it can’t all be done online.

Family: Keeping track of a departed loved one’s digital legacy

Family: Keeping track of a departed loved one’s digital legacy

At one time we might have treasured a departed loved one’s voice on a recording, or their image on an old video, but now their digital footprint is scattered.

When a loved one dies, what becomes of that digital legacy? Like most Americans, our loved ones will most likely access more than two dozen password-protected sites on different computers and smartphones, storing and sharing the vulnerable, mundane and whimsical details of life while connecting with family and friends.

Your Digital Legacy

Your Digital Legacy

This week saw the passing of one of our VA colleagues and it got me thinking… what do you do with your digital footprint once you’ve passed?

We hear a lot in business about risk management, succession planning,

ensuring your partner has access to your passwords, insurance policies and so on. Some businesses even write a plan for what to do in the event of illness or accident. But how many of those actually include information about what to do with your online presence – your website, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Pinterest – the list is endless!

It seems like I wasn’t the only one thinking about this. Recently the Courier Mail/Sunday Mail ran an article about just this topic.

Your social media accounts store years of memories, pictures, data and activities. So it seems that now, lawyers are advising people to think about including a clause in their Will about what should be done with social media accounts on their demise.

Facebook’s policy is that a profile can be deleted at the request of an immediate family member or memorialised so that others can post tributes to them on the Wall. You can see more info about this at the Facebook Blog. Similarly, immediate family members or a person authorised to act on behalf of the user’s Estate can deactivate the person’s Twitter account.

Make a list of all your online accounts and notify your Executor or partner of those. You might keep this list (together with access passwords) with your Will at your lawyer’s office. At the very least let your partner know where they can find them. They’ll have enough to deal with in the event of your death without having to try and remember every online space you have inhabited during your life.

The same applies to your website – include information about who is hosting the site, contact details; the domain name registry; domain expiry information etc so that your family can get in touch with the right people with the least amount of fuss.

If you haven’t thought about it before, now might be the time – before something happens or you fall ill. It’s something none of us like to think about but, as the saying goes, none of us are getting out of this alive, so making things as easy as possible for those left behind should be your focus.

Do you have any ideas for helping your family sort out your digital legacy? Share them below!

Google Searching for Answers to Digital Legacy Problems

The digital legacy that a deceased person leaves behind has been a much-talked-about subject in the estates world in recent years.  See, for example, blogs on the subject by Moira VisoiuSaman Jaffery or Nadia Harasymowycz.  There’s a March Hull on Estates podcast about this, and another from July 2011.

While there have been some legislative and judicial developments in some jurisdictions (see Nebraska’s Bill 783 for an example), it has largely been left to private industry to resolve the problems created when a person passes away leaving a large digital footprint behind.

Fortunately, Google has stepped up to the plate and introduced a new policy to resolve this issue with respect to its services.  Google’s new Inactive Account Manager feature takes leaps forward towards resolving digital legacy issues.

Called a “digital will” by some media sources including the Toronto Star, the Inactive Account Manager allows users to manage what happens to their Google-related digital assets on death, or on prolonged account inactivity.  Users may set a period of time of inactivity (three, six, nine, or twelve months), after which Google will delete their data.  Before anything is deleted, Google will notify you by email or by text message to your cell phone.  If users would prefer that their data be preserved, there is an option to have some or all of it sent to trusted contacts.  The services to which the service applies include +1s, Blogger, Contacts and Circles, Drive, Gmail, Google+ Profiles, Pages and Streams, Picasa Web Albums, Google Voice, and Youtube.

This service is a clever and easy to use way to manage digital assets.  It does raise a number of questions, however.  How does this policy interact with legislation and case law about digital assets in jurisdictions that have these policies?  Will Facebook, or other online services follow suit and prepare similar policies?  Does an estate trustee under a will in Ontario have the authority (or the responsibility) to collect your digital assets from the person named on your Inactive Account Manager?

Perhaps the answers to these questions will become clear with time.  In the interim, it appears that we are left with a patchwork of policies created by different online service providers with different intentions and different philosophies.  Consider, for example, _LIVESON, a service that analyzes a user’s Twitter habits and generates automated tweets for him or her after death.  Control is placed in the hands of an “executor” who manages your _LIVESON “will”.  Although somewhat eerie, this is an interesting way to ensure that a person’s online presence not only persists after death, but continues to develop and grow.

If you are a Google user, it may be worth checking out the Inactive Account Manager and configuring your settings.  The photos, blogs, friends and videos left behind on a user’s death may mean a lot to grieving loved ones.

When updating an estate plan, digital assets are an important aspect to consider.  Lawyers should be cognizant of the issues surrounding digital legacies, and should discuss them with their clients.  People planning their wills should think about the intangibles they leave behind as well.  And if you aren’t sure where to find this information, try Google.