The New World of “Digital Legacy”

The New World of “Digital Legacy”

Robert Silverman Digital Legacy
Robert Silverman Digital Legacy

By Robert J. Silverman, Attorney at Law

In our increasingly digital world, we are facing new questions about what to do with our social media, websites and Internet applications when we’re gone. As Internet companies refine their rules and policies, and legislatures enact new statutes, there are a growing number of alternatives as to our “digital legacy”. While much of this will be handled by individuals outside of the formal estate planning realm, some clients will also choose to incorporate related terms into their estate planning documents. We in the legal profession stand ready to accommodate in this regard.

Social media and other prominent websites are paying more attention to what happens to a user’s account when he or she dies. Service providers are establishing more detailed policies and procedures. New legislation has even been enacted.

As social media plays a bigger role in the lives of a growing number of people, companies like Facebook and Google are starting to respond to the important, but often sensitive and difficult, aspect of user legacy. In this very new and rapidly developing arena, applicable law is very sparse. As a result, companies are often making up their own rules.

This is not a significant part of the formal estate planning process that clients typically discuss with their estate planning attorneys. Rarely are provisions about digital assets included in estate planning documents, such as Wills or Living Trusts. Nevertheless: a) clients have the option of having such provisions included in their documents; and b) clients will undoubtedly choose to do so more often in the future. Mostly, Internet users who are “planners” will become familiar with the post-death procedures that apply to social media and other forms of their online identity. Then, they will submit the required forms to ensure that their post-death wishes are followed.

Internet services are grappling with tough questions and trying to determine the right balance between respecting a user’s privacy and being responsive to the wishes and requests of grieving loved ones. Google was among the early major Internet companies to deal with digital afterlife matters. They enabled users to choose “digital heirs” for various Internet services including Gmail and cloud storage. These digital heirs were labeled “inactive account managers”.

Facebook also made a recent, high profile splash by changing its long-time policy of simply freezing the account of a deceased user, leaving up the decedent’s posts and pictures, and maintaining the privacy setting that the decedent had established – a process Facebook called “memorialization”. Facebook announced that users may now designate a “legacy contact” – a person the user chooses to manage certain parts of a deceased user’s account posthumously. Alternatively, members can choose to have their Facebook presence deleted entirely once they have died.

Facebook legacy contacts can turn a deceased person’s Facebook page into what some people refer to as a “digital gravestone”. They are able to display posts with a memorialized profile picture, and can even respond to new friend requests on behalf of the deceased user. Many other options are available to the legacy contact as long as the deceased user granted prior permission for such options.

Fortunately, in lieu of a user designating a legacy contact, the user may designate a “digital heir” in his or her Will, and Facebook will honor that Will provision.

It may be a bit mind-boggling that, beyond your existing “to do” list (that’s probably quite long as it is), you now have to think about who you want in charge of your social media accounts and Internet activity after you die. The good news is that now you at least have more of a choice about the legacy you want for your digital assets – just like the myriad choices you have about creating a legacy for your conventional assets in your estate planning documents.

State law will undoubtedly develop rapidly in the area of succession, management and privacy as they relate to digital assets. Delaware recently passed legislation known as “Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets and Digital Accounts Act” and about a dozen states are considering enacting a similar law. Evidently, this legislation was a response to the policy of many large Internet companies who have played things safe by heavily restricting access to a decedent’s online accounts. Under the new Delaware law, unless a decedent instructed otherwise, online accounts are accessible by an Executor without their needing to spend the considerable time, effort and money to obtain a court order.

While this Delaware law may seem perfectly logical and appropriate, it is somewhat controversial. A significant number of people and Internet companies insist that the law grants power to Executors that is too broad and violates both the decedent’s privacy rights and existing federal privacy law.

Stay tuned for new legal developments in this interesting area. Meanwhile, give some thought to how you may want your digital assets handled… just don’t neglect to establish or review and update your traditional legacy (estate) planning as well!

This article is intended to provide information of a general nature, and should not be relied upon as legal, tax, financial and/or business advice. Readers should obtain and rely upon specific advice only from their own qualified professional advisors. This communication is not intended or written to be used, for the purpose of: i) avoiding penalties under the Internal Revenue Code; or ii) promoting, marketing, or recommending to another party any matters addressed herein.

Protect your digital legacy with The Soldier’s Box

Protect your digital legacy with The Soldier’s Box

The Soldiers Box web
Three British technology entrepreneurs launch the solution to a problem that now affects us all.

What happens to our digital world when we die? The answer lies over a hundred years ago in the trenches of WWI.

Soldiers on the frontline kept their most treasured possessions; personal photos, private letters and important documents in one small box or the tin, given as a Christmas gift by Princess Mary. In the event the soldier lost his life, this box would be passed to his loved ones. His family would receive the items within, just as he would have wanted them to be seen. This box was nick named ‘The Soldier’s Box’.

Founder, Darren Richmond, an IT professional from Horsham, West Sussex, heard this story on the radio and decided to bring the concept of The Soldier’s Box into the 21st century. The idea is simple: Organise and store most treasured digital possessions; photos, videos, documents, contracts and messages, in one secure, convenient online place. In the event of one’s death, loved ones will have easy access to everything he or she wishes them to keep. In essence, a virtual WWI Soldier’s Box.

Darren shared the idea with two life long friends, both with years of experience in the technology industry, Lee Rendell and Greg Roffe. Together they designed and developed the new digital version of The Soldier’s Box.

“In the last few years, we have radically changed the way we record memories and manage our lives.” said Darren, “The Soldier’s Box provides an easy way to ensure our digital legacy lives on and our memories are not lost.”

The Soldier’s Box was created by the team with the desire to bring comfort to bereaved families and support with the practicalities of losing a loved one. Anything can be stored in The Soldier’s box: Personal items, including a list of personal messages, video clips or treasured photographs with special friends; Practical necessities, including personal finances, household instructions or birthday lists to help those left behind with everyday tasks.

The box is not intended as a replacement for an online back-up provider. It is designed as a tool to securely organise everything in someone’s life that is important. It is completely protected by using exactly the same security methods deployed by the worlds leading financial institutions. The team describe it as an online safe with the added benefit of having a unique secure mechanism to easily be passed on to loved ones.

The Soldiers’ Box can be added to a Will, but does not replace one. An assigned trustee receives a unique initiation code, to start the data inheritance process of the box. It is recommended that everyone has a will to legally record their final wishes. Lee Rendell comments: “Most of us add to our store of digital files on a daily basis and it’s just not practical to update a Will that often. You can add files to your Soldier’s Box as often as you like and simply record a single personal Soldier’s Box code in your Will. With our beneficiary process, you don’t even need a Will to use The Soldier’s Box – although we’d recommend that everyone has one.”

The Soldier’s Box is available now. You can register for a free 14 day trial. Thereafter, plans start from as little as £36 per year.

Israel’s High Tech Aims to Help the Elderly

Israel’s High Tech Aims to Help the Elderly

[Tel Aviv] – More and more elderly people worldwide are joining the technology revolution, and technology is coming to meet them halfway. In Israel, one of the world’s high-tech capitals, companies are racing to develop new applications and products for the senior citizens set.

“The population is getting older and this creates a lot of challenges as people are living alone and not being involved in society as much as younger people,” Eran Gal, CEO of Xorcom a company developing a home monitoring solution, told The Media Line. Called Amity, the software is capable of monitoring both location and behavior patterns to ensure that an older person has not fallen or wandered away from their home in cases of dementia. The idea is to give elderly more independence while keeping them safe.

A second startup, E2C has developed a simplified operating system that works with off-the-shelf hardware to create a smartphone that is more user friendly for older customers. The program responds to longer presses on the touch screen (to prevent accidental calls), always uses a full screen keyboard, and collects pictures and messages from different programs into one easy-to-find location. The program is aimed at reconnecting elderly people to friends and family and allowing a smartphone to be an aid rather than an obstacle. Currently, only around 20% of seniors in the US are using smartphones, E2C’s co-founder Amir Alon, told The Media Line, and he hopes his application could increase that number.

“We are taking the latest technologies and making it relevant for the senior citizens, and we can change the life of the senior,” Alon said. “Our flagship product is our smartphone for seniors. We take off the shelf hardware, and we make our own kind of Android for seniors.”

It makes good business sense, as well as ethical social responsibility, to cater to the elderly, Nir Shimony, the CEO and co-founder of TechForGood, a group which aims to promote social works through innovative technological solutions, told The Media Line. “We want to harness the Israeli out-of-the-box way of tackling business issues into tackling social issues,” Shimony explained. The size and growth of the elderly population in the developed world makes them an attractive consumer group to companies, as does their relative wealth.

Other Israeli startups moving into the field of elderly care include: Video Therapy, a solution aimed at improving the efficiency of therapy for older citizens by allowing them to interact with their trainer via video-call; and Atlas Sense, unobtrusive, wearable technology that can read and transmit a subject’s vital signs to monitor their health, and even detect if a person falls.

Many of the new companies’ technologies raised questions regarding the ethics of monitoring an individual or of the continuous integration of a person’s body with digital technology. This was something acknowledged by several of the entrepreneurs who noted that new technologies can have an impact on society at large.

This was especially true of Moran Zur, the CEO of Safe Beyond, a startup which enables a user to leave video messages for their loved ones after their death.

“We try actually to change the perception of death… we believe that the fact you stop existing in the real world does not mean that you will not continue existing in the digital world,” Zur told The Media Line.

Safe Beyond’s video messages can be triggered by a date, an individual going to a certain location or even by a key event like a grown child’s wedding. Facebook turns a user’s page into a memorial site after their death so this sort of program is not without precedent, the CEO suggested. Rather the application gives control of this digital legacy to the user who can decide what to leave behind and who to leave it for, Zur said.

Google in Tel Aviv recently hosted all of these companies as part of Aging 2.0, high-tech pitch events for 30 cities in 30 days. At the end of the day in Tel Aviv, the audience voted for their favorites, and E2C’s smartphone received the most votes. CEO Amir Alon will go on to the next level of the competition in San Francisco later this year.

Who will get your iTunes when you die?

An electronic immortality

Human fascination with immortality stretches back to the time of Greek mythology with history littered by charlatans, oddballs and megalomaniacs either claiming or seeking the secret to eternal life.

However, the modern tech-savvy generation has discovered, quite by chance, that an immortality of sorts is now freely available via the digital footprint they leave should they meet an untimely end.  It’s estimated that on Facebook alone, more than 30 million accounts belong to people who are deceased.

As if the pain of coping with the death of a loved one isn’t difficult enough, friends and family must now consider the implications of the deceased’s online life to go with their material existence.

Your online footprint
Think for a moment about your own digital presence.  You’ll almost certainly use online banking and shopping facilities, perhaps an online wallet like PayPal, email accounts, a frequent flyer program, a social media presence via Facebook or Twitter, along with potentially thousands of personal files, receipts and photographs.

Most people already understand the importance of estate planning to help pass on worldly goods such as housing, savings and mementos to their beneficiaries.  But how will your heirs even gain access to your computer and your passwords?

Like so many laws relating to the digital world, many are outdated or irrelevant, and several online services have already established their own policies.  For instance, Twitter allows family or friends to download a copy of your public tweets and close your account.  You need to nominate someone in advance to provide their name and contact details, their relationship to you, your Twitter username and a link to or copy of your obituary.

Digital executors
No laws currently exist in Australia to grant a Will’s executor automatic access to someone’s social media accounts.  However, there are still several options available to help decide on how your online legacy is managed.

The first step is to create a Digital Will.  In addition, you will need to select a trustworthy digital executor to handle arrangements for your digital assets and digital legacy once you are gone.  Similarly, if you run your own business, it will have its own digital incarnation and its own digital legacy to maintain.  Some Australian Will makers offer Digital Wills so people can ensure their online legacy lives on – or fades away – in accordance with their wishes.

Online vaults for safe storage
An increasingly popular alternative is to store important documents and passwords in an online vault.  The likes of SecureSafe, Legacy Lockboxor Assets in Order pledge to provide secure online storage of passwords and documents.

Password management accounts can be set up using software such as Norton Identity Safe while Google recently introduced a new program called Inactive Account Manager, which enables you to choose in advance exactly what you wish to have done with all your Google data – from Gmail accounts to YouTube videos.

Considering how much of our communication takes place online these days, it’s worth investing some time thinking about your digital footprint and what is required to manage it when you’re gone.  A good time to do this might be when next reviewing your Wills and Powers of Attorney.  With a little thought and preparation, you can leave a lasting legacy to your loved ones, well beyond photos or videos, and avoid complications associated with your ‘digital immortality’.