Dealing with your digital estate

Dealing with your digital estate

 

My dad is one of those people who refuses to touch a computer and loves his old flip-style “dumb” phone. If you’re like my dad, you can probably skip this article. But if you’re someone who uses a computer, smartphone, or any other type of electronic device, please read on.

When thinking about estate planning, it’s easy to overlook your digital life. By addressing this issue now, you can help your family after you’re gone by allowing them to more easily locate contact information for your friends and colleagues, locate and access your online accounts so that they can be closed and any property in them distributed appropriately, and locate any important information (such as family photographs) that you have stored on digital devices.

Putting a plan in place to deal with all of your digital devices and accounts can feel overwhelming. To help make it a bit more manageable, I suggest breaking the task into the following steps: (1) make a list; (2) decide what you want done; (3) choose someone to be in charge; and (4) store this information securely.

Make a list – For most people, this will be the most time-consuming step. One way to attack this is to divide your digital assets into categories. For example, categories could include hardware (like computers, external hard drives, flash/thumb/USB drives, tablets, smartphones, e-readers, digital music players, and digital cameras), online financial accounts (like banking, credit cards, PayPal, frequent flier miles, insurance, retirement plans, stocks, and brokerage accounts), email and social media (like Yahoo, Gmail, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn), online storage sites (like iCloud, DropBox, or Flickr), and any websites/URLs or blogs you own or manage. At a minimum, include all user names and passwords. Also, it’s a good idea to list any recurring payments you have set up through your bank accounts or credit cards, like utilities, insurance premiums, tuition, or loans. Be sure to update your list as you add or delete accounts or change passwords.

Decide what you want done – Once you know what your digital assets are, you can decide how you want to deal with them. First, as you make your list, if you find that you have any accounts that you don’t use any more, close or delete them now so your loved ones have less to deal with later. Next, for your online accounts, especially social media, check the policies for each site. Some sites, like Facebook, Google, and Instagram, give you options for how you’d like your account handled after your death. For many other sites, the only option is for someone to contact the site after your death. For digital photos or other electronic files on your devices (like original music or videos, recipes, or letters or stories you’ve written), write a letter of instruction for how these assets should be handled and keep the letter with your will and other estate planning documents.

Choose someone to be in charge – If you have a will (and if you don’t, get one!), you’ve already chosen someone to be in charge of managing your estate after you die. In Indiana, this person is called your personal representative. However, your personal representative might not be digitally savvy (like my dad) and therefore not the best person to handle your digital estate, so you may want to name someone else to deal with your digital assets. Also, although Indiana law gives personal representatives some authority over digital accounts, some companies may be reluctant to deal with anyone unless your will specifically authorizes them to access your accounts.

Store this information securely – There are many different ways that you can securely store information related to your digital assets. For example, there are dozens of “password manager” and “online vault” websites and smartphone apps that will let you store your passwords. Generally how these sites/apps work is that you create one master password for the site/app that then allows you (or your digital personal representative to whom you’ve given your master password) to access your list of other passwords. The websites/apps can vary greatly in regards to features and price (there are some good free ones), so be sure to do your research if you go this route. If you prefer something more traditional, options such as a safe deposit box, home safe, or memory stick could work. Just be sure that your digital personal representative knows where the information is and has access to it. Whatever method you choose, don’t put this information in your will, which will become a publicly accessible document after your death.

As with most estate planning issues, the challenges and complexities of creating a plan for digital assets vary with each person’s individual needs and circumstances. If you haven’t already made a plan for how your digital assets should be handled after your death, consider contacting an estate planning attorney to discuss your situation in detail. It’s never too soon to start planning.

Carrie S. Cloud is an attorney practicing at 146 E US Highway 52, Rushville, Indiana 46173. The information in this article is for general informational purposes only and is not legal advice.

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.

Digital Legacy Association urges hospices to support patients in managing their digital estate

Digital Legacy Association urges hospices to support patients in managing their digital estate

The Digital Legacy Association is encouraging those who work in palliative and end of life care to help patients think about and make plans for their digital assets, online accounts and electronic devices, with the launch of a new leaflet.

As part of Dying Matters Awareness Week (9 to 15 May), The Digital Legacy Association has launched a new leaflet aimed at helping individuals to get their digital affairs in order.

It encourages people to think about what they want to happen to their social media accounts (like Facebook) after their death and who, if anyone, they want to have access to their mobile phone and other electronic devices.

“As we spend more time using the internet and on electronic devices it is becoming increasingly important for us to make plans surrounding end of life that are suitable to the ways in which we live,” explained James Norris, founder of The Digital Legacy Association.

The launch of the new resource coincides with a new data released by Dying Matters today which found that 40% of British adults wouldn’t unfriend someone they know on Facebook after that person died.

The survey of 2,000 adults by ComRes also found that 26% agreed that Facebook is a good way of sharing news of a death beyond the immediate circle of family and friends, with 50% disagreeing.

Only 21% of people agreed that Facebook is the best method of sharing news of a terminal diagnosis beyond close friends and family, with 58% disagreeing.

In both cases, younger people are more likely to be comfortable sharing such news on Facebook.

“This shows how important Facebook is as a tool to remember and mourn the deceased,” said James Norris.

“That so few people would unfriend someone on Facebook after their death gives us a small indication as to the importance Facebook is providing into posterity.”

The Digital Legacy Association is a nationwide organisation that supports the general public and health and social care professionals with digital estate planning, digital legacy and bereavement.

To find out more about The Digital Legacy Association, and to download the new resource, visit the association’s website.

Learn How to Preserve Your Data with Take Control of Your Digital Legacy

Digital Estate Planning

When people think about estate planning, they are typically concerned with the distribution of physical assets at their deaths.  However, most people fail to consider (and plan for) their digital assets.

Digital assets are digital property that has to do with our electronic devices, and  includes all of the content that we own and have stored electronically  In other words, digital assets may include the content in our online bank and credit card accounts; music, movies, pictures and books in electronic devices such as computers, smartphones and tablets, and in our email and social media accounts such as Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr.

Without a plan in place, you risk burying your family in red tape as they try to get access to and deal with your online accounts that may have sentimental, practical or monetary value. If you have an email account, your emails might be deleted before your family has a chance to review them. In other cases, maybe your family gains access to emails that you’d rather they didn’t see.  Same goes with the content of a Facebook account.

Additionally, certain industry estimates place the average value of a person’s digital assets at around $30,000.  It’s clearly not only an issue of family photos and other sentimental assets. If you have an online-only bank account or a PayPal account (or Bitcoins), your executor may never know about that account if not for your digital estate plan.

But planning for online assets can be complicated: These accounts often are governed by the terms-of-service agreement to which you agreed upon opening the account. Often, service providers have created those agreements to comply with federal laws that limit access to account information to authorized users.  Plus, most state laws don’t offer specific support to executors in taking control of digital assets. Next year, Florida is expected to adopt a law that, once enacted, would give estate representatives and trustees easier access to digital assets, making it easier to retrieve a loved one’s stored data.