Digital remains should be treated with the same care and respect as physical remains

The Handling of Digital Property in Estate Planning in Wisconsin

The Handling of Digital Property in Estate Planning in Wisconsin

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What is digital property?

Digital property consists of online accounts that are protected by a password and/or PIN (Personal Identification Number). Some accounts might have monetary value, and other accounts might be sentimental such as photo libraries. Many digital accounts have no value but would be considered an electronic record in which a person has a right or interest.

Examples of digital property are nearly endless but include:

  • Online bank accounts (most of which require multi-step authentication processes to access)
  • Online retirement accounts
  • Data on your phone or other electronic devices
  • Electronic bill payments
  • Credit card accounts that are paperless
  • Email accounts (which may include helpful communications and monthly reports from various other online accounts)
  • Social media accounts like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn (plus many others)
  • PayPal accounts
  • eBay accounts
  • Online shopping accounts with saved credit card information
  • Photo libraries
  • iTunes accounts and other music libraries (which might be licensed property, not owned)
  • Cloud services
  • Web domains, personal or professional websites
  • Online memberships
  • Home security systems
  • Any accounts with automatic renewal or payments such as insurance policies, virus protection accounts, tuition payments to kids/grandkids schools, church contributions, other charitable contributions, newspapers, Sirius radio accounts, etc.
  • Entertainment accounts like Netflix, Hulu, and online gaming accounts
  • Healthcare online accounts like MyChart platforms

What happens to digital property after a person passes away?

Digital assets are handled similarly to other property after a person dies. Thus, if the deceased does not have a will, the rules of intestacy apply to digital property as they do for all estates without a will. A challenge with addressing digital property, however, is that survivors are frequently unaware of a deceased’s digital property, especially if there was no will.

In April 2016, the Wisconsin Digital Property Act was signed into law to aid in distributing assets that include digital property. In part, the Act helps personal representatives and fiduciaries gain access to the deceased’s digital property. It also helps courts and practitioners handle digital property similar to physical property.

If the deceased has a will, distribution of all assets should be clearer, including digital property.

To help with that clarity, when creating your will, be sure to incorporate your digital property and provide the following information, if possible:

  • An updated and thorough inventory of all online accounts and passwords and what the account consists of

Many people create a document or spreadsheet that the lawyer and/or a named person has access to that lists your accounts and security information. If you choose to store all your accounts and passwords in one digital place, such as an app or somewhere on a device, make sure your will highlights where this information can be found, or let your lawyer know how to access it. It’s important that your online account information be updated regularly when passwords change or when accounts are added or deleted. Take note that access to your phone might be necessary for two-step authentication on some accounts.

It can be helpful to also indicate what the account consists of, such as “personal email” or “former employer pension” or “account linked to PayPal” — anything that provides helpful details about that account.

  • A named digital property representative/digital executor

Choose one or more trusted persons to handle the digital property component of your will. You may want different people to handle different accounts. Ideally, these people have some level of technical expertise. At a minimum, your estate plan should allow the executor of your will to designate a person to handle digital property. (Keep in mind that access to an account does not mean that person is entitled to any value assigned to that account.)

  • Specific plans for each account

Some online accounts, such as Facebook, have a process to follow when someone dies. In addition, some accounts allow you to choose someone to close or manage your account in your personal settings. Still, you should specify what you would like done with each account on your inventory list. Do you want some accounts closed, like social media or email? Do you want someone to take over an account, such as a photo library or ancestry profile? What do you want to do with financial/bank accounts that you earmarked for a child’s college tuition or to pay your property taxes? (Many banks and credit unions allow you to name each financial account for their intended use, such as “college” or “property tax,” which can be helpful.)

The most important thing is to identify as many accounts as possible, especially those with monetary value.

How can a lawyer help with digital property management — before and after death?

The Wisconsin Digital Property Act helps clarify the law regarding digital property to some extent, but the process of identifying and accessing that information in Wisconsin estate planning is still being fine-tuned.

While creating an inventory and designating people to manage digital accounts is the responsibility of the person who owns the estate, a lawyer can assist in a number of ways.

When making a will, an estate planning lawyer can help you by:

  • Overseeing (be the keeper of) your online account information. Your lawyer should be updated when accounts are added or deleted or when passwords are changed. You can submit this information to him/her via email or hard copy updates. You could also give your lawyer information needed to gain access to the place where this information is kept, like an app on your phone.
  • Keeping a key (but not the only key!) to a safe where you have documents with this information. At a minimum, you should tell your lawyer where the key is kept.
  • Helping create a digital property document that explicitly names individuals who may access your accounts, including powers of attorney if you become incapacitated.
  • Assisting in creating a trust to keep digital property out of the courts, if this seems necessary.

After death, a lawyer can assist with digital property by:

  • Helping identify the accounts that need legal action to access.
  • Making sure the information is in the right hands, as per instructions in the will.
  • Working with the executor to sort out details.
  • Representing loved ones who work to gain access to digital property or who want to ensure that access requests are legitimate.
  • Remaining objective about information discovered in any digital accounts and focus on the legal issues specifically.
  • Providing assistance with probate matters or with intestate matters, if there was no will.
  • Advising clients on processes of recovering and dividing digital and other assets.

Planning for digital property, in summary

The days of waiting for bank/financial statements and bills to arrive in the mail to help determine a deceased’s financial situation are practically over. While best practices are still being established, it is clear that digital property is becoming increasingly more important in estate planning.

Individuals must be proactive in creating and updating an inventory of all digital accounts, including passwords and PIN numbers. Instructions are needed for each account, and access information to the deceased’s cell phone (for multi-step authentication processes) should be provided. Information should be kept with a lawyer or trusted individual. If necessary, a lawyer can assist with the creation of a trust to keep digital property out of court.

The estate planning lawyers at Murphy Desmond can help you with digital property and other details of your will or estate plan. It’s important to regularly update your will for changes in family, marital status, asset/property acquisition or loss, and digital property data.

Millennials, It is Time to Educate and Protect Your Digital Relatives

Millennials, It is Time to Educate and Protect Your Digital Relatives

Millennials, It is Time to Educate and Protect Your Digital Relatives

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Digital Parents, Digital Grandparents, Digital Death, Digital Estate Planning, Identity Theft, End-of-Life Services
Digital Parents, Digital Grandparents, Digital Death, Digital Estate Planning, Identity Theft, End-of-Life Services

Technology for all

“How do I send a Facebook message?”

“Can you help me with the computer?”

“I can’t get into my phone!”

Sound familiar? For many millennials, older relatives have spent a large percentage of their lives helping, teaching and supporting you. Now it’s time for millennials to teach and support your now digital relatives.

How many of your parents, grandparents and other relatives are now online and using technology? According to Pew Research Center, 73% of American adults ages 65 or older are internet users. That is up 14% from the year 2000, just a decade ago. To younger generations, the value of technology and the internet made them early adopters to integrating various technologies into their daily lives; it is clear that older Americans are now on board as well.

Millennials must help your older relatives understand the dark side of technology

With all things in life, there are pros and cons. Technology is no different. Growing up with technology, Millennials have an easier time understanding the negative sides. Identity theft, fraud and stolen financial information are just some examples of what can easily happen if the proper steps and precautions are not taken. Older generations need help understanding how they can easily fall victim to cyber crime, even after death. Have you ever found yourself saying one of the following to an older relative?

  • Do not click links in emails from people you do not know
  • Even more confusing, do not click links in emails from familiar sources that seem “off”; go to the websites directly
  • You must use a passcode for your phone
  • Do not use the same password for all your online accounts

What is the value of your digital information, assets and footprint?

In a survey conducted by McAfee, they found that 88% of consumers own multiple digital devices, with 62% owning three or more and 20% owning five or more.

More than half of consumers surveyed (51%) spend 15 hours or more on their digital devices. The study concluded that the global average worth of assets stored on our devices is over $35,000. The study was further expanded by Andrew Hill Investment Advisors, who state for Americans, the average financial worth of digital assets is over $55,000 per person.

These studies are interesting and encourage you to value your digital assets along with your physical property. While it is easy to define the value of your laptop, phone and other devices, the harder piece of this equation is how do you place a value on your irreplaceable items (such as photos or documents), or financial information that could be stolen?

Help your relatives protect and plan for their digital estate

Take a moment and think about all the financial, personal, sensitive or private information that your relatives may have on their devices:

  • Credit cards
  • Tax documents
  • Social Security numbers (for all family members, likely including yours)
  • Medical records (for all family members, likely including yours)
  • Banking information
  • Retirement information
  • Investment information
  • Private conversations
  • Private and personal data
  • Private location data

According to AARP, it can take six months for financial institutions, credit-reporting bureaus and the Social Security Administration to receive, share or register death records. Widely available funeral announcements create the perfect scenario for criminals to strike, and it makes grieving loved ones a prime target for identity theft and other types of financial and digital theft. It has become imperative that your older relatives start to plan properly for their digital death.

Did you know that according to AARP, close to 800,000 deceased individuals are targeted for identity theft annually? That’s almost 2,200 a day. With a name, address and birth date, criminals can purchase a Social Security number for as little as $10. Stealing the identity of the deceased is called ghosting, and you can learn more about it here.

Digital estate planning is about you, too

Digital estate planning is more than just protection from criminals targeting your deceased loved ones; it is also about organization. When a loved one passes, it is a difficult and emotional time for family members. The last thing you want to worry about is where to find important information such as a will, or safeguard family memories such as photos. When you take time to plan in advance using a central storage location such as an Info Vault, your relatives will enjoy peace of mind knowing that all their important information, documents, passwords, photos and other digital items are safe.

You will also benefit from your relatives planning for their digital estate. While grieving and dealing with their post-life matters, you will not have to scramble around looking for their password and other important information, during what is one of life’s most emotional and stressful times.

Talk to your relatives

The time is now to talk to your parents and other relatives about planning and protecting their digital lives. You never know when your time will be up, so take action today. Talk to your relatives about how easy and wide-spread end-of-life related crimes can be. In the same conversation, explain how they can organize both their traditional and digital estates at the same time using digital estate planning services. Taking proactive measures now will provide both you and your relatives with the peace-of-mind knowing that their important items will be safely transferred in an organized manner, making one the hardest times in life a little easier.

How Final Security can help

Final Security can help protect your relatives by providing them with the tools they need to properly plan their estate and control their digital information and assets upon death.

Info Vault

Final Security’s Info Vault is a place where loved ones can store their digital information:

  • Store usernames and passwords to any service (files and notes can be saved with each entry).
  • Store their photos: save a single, memorable photo or a collection to pass on.
  • Store your documents, such as a will, or a collection of information their beneficiaries will need.
  • Create an efficient, organized and central place for their beneficiary to find all their important information after their passing.

Device Cleaning

With Final Security’s Device Cleaning service, they can have that peace of mind that their registered devices will be remotely wiped upon the confirmation of their passing. Our service will ensure that their sensitive and private information will not be seen by anyone but their designated beneficiary. We will protect not only their legacy but provide protection to their family and friends by making sure their private information does not get into the wrong hands.

Social Media Cleaning

Social Clean is Final Security’s service that allows you to know that your online accounts do not live on the web forever. Not only does this service protect their legacy and information, it also protects family and friends. Bad actors are looking to capitalize on the window of time where your death may not be publicly known or officially recognized. In this window of time, your family and friends could fall victim to a scam that looks like it is coming from your account.

Americans 60 and older are spending more time in front of their screens than a decade ago. (2019). Pew Research Center. From: https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/06/18/americans-60-and-older-are-spending-more-time-in-front-of-their-screens-than-a-decade-ago

Are Your Digital Assets Protected? -. (2019). Responsibleadvisors.com. From: https://responsibleadvisors.com/are-your-digital-assets-protected/

How Do Your Digital Assets Compare? | McAfee Blogs. (2013). McAfee Blogs. From: https://www.mcafee.com/blogs/consumer/family-safety/digital-assets/

More Adults are Seeking Estate Planning Services to Manage their Assets

More Adults are Seeking Estate Planning Services to Manage their Assets

More Adults are Seeking Estate Planning Services to Manage their Assets

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The trend to seek estate planning services is increasing all over the world, and many people are using these services in order to manage their assets post their incapacitation or death. With the availability of digital and simplified estate planning services, it has become possible for adults to access such services in an easy manner.

Due to the high use of technology, access to digital estate planning services has increased significantly over the course of time. Estate planning takes into consideration the management of an individual’s properties and financial obligations in the case they have been incapacitated. It involves the preservation, management, and distribution of an individual’s wealth after his death.

There are plenty of reasons for which people have been planning an estate such as preserving family wealth, providing for surviving spouse and children, funding children and/or grandchildren’s education, or leaving their legacy. In Australia, estate planning and legal will services have been making available excellent services to their clients in a digitally secured environment.

The growing popularity of OneWill estate planning services is one such example in this context. There are plenty of tasks that estate planning services need to take into consideration while providing their services to their clients. Some of them are limiting estate taxes by setting up trust accounts in the name of beneficiaries, the establishment of a guardian for living dependents, setting up funeral arrangements, naming an executor of the estate in order to oversee the terms of the will, etc

Estate Palnning for your Digital Assets

Estate Palnning for your Digital Assets

  1.  afterlife company: There are several companies out there will store your digital assets and instructions online. Some of these afterlife companies even have the option for users to send notes and e-mails to loved one’s after the user has passed away. Under this method, you would only need to have the afterlife companies log-in information in your trust which would provide access to all of your digital assets.

Deceased User Policies

As mentioned above, many digital account providers have their own set of user policies (Terms of Service Agreements and Privacy Policies) which dictate how their online and digital accounts are treated after the death or incapacity of the user. It is not uncommon for these to expire when the user dies. Here is a list of the current user policies as of January 2016 for some popular account providers:

Facebook & Instagram deceased user policy:

Google, Gmail, Google+ deceased user policy

  • Google’s Deceased User Policy: Google does not allow another user to login to a user’s account and is not able to provide passwords for a deceased user.
  • Planning Ahead: Google allows its users to determine who should have access to their information and whether the user would like for his or her account to be deleted upon death. Users can set this up through Googles “Inactive Account Manager”.
  • What happens if you don’t plan?: Google has a team that will work with the deceased representatives or immediate family members to close online accounts. Google still needs to be notified that a user is deceased.

LinkedIn deceased user policy

  • LinkedIn’s Deceased User Policy: LinkedIn only allows a users account to be deleted after a person is deceased
  • Planning Ahead: You should include your username and password in your trust, or use a third party password management tool. If your loved ones have your account information, they try and log in prior to closing the account to download the deceased’s contact information.
  • What happens if you don’t plan?: Anyone can make a request to remove the deceased persons account.

Apple Account deceased user policy:

  • Apple’s Deceased User Policy: Apples user policy states: “You may not rent, lease, lend, sell, transfer, redistribute, or sublicense the Licensed Application and, if you sell your Mac Computer or iOS Device to a third party, you must remove the Licensed Application from the Mac Computer or iOS Device before doing so. “
  • Planning Ahead: If you have an applie account, you can include your username and password in your trust, or use a third party password management tool, but understand that by doing this you may be violating Apple’s deceased user policy, so tread lightly and seek legal counsel.
  • What happens if you don’t plan?: Apple does not have a online process for closing an Apple ID. In order to do so, you must contact apple support.

Twitter deceased user policy

  • Twitter’s Deceased User Policy: Twitter will not provide allow anyone other than the user to access the account, however they will work with an authorized representative of the deceased user’s estate to deactivate the account.
  • Planning Ahead: Again, you could leave the log-in information to your Twitter account to a trusted friend or family member and they could continue using the account. In addition, there are third party services that create an automatic back-up of your Tweets.
  • What happens if you don’t plan?: According to the Twitter policy “a person authorized to act on the behalf of the estate or with a verified immediate family member of the deceased” can make a request to deactivate the account.

Microsoft, Outlook, and Hotmail Accounts deceased user policy

  • Microsoft’s Deceased User Policy: Microsoft has a team that will release a users content to a next of kin or a guardian. To ensure security, Microsoft will not provide a users password or transfer ownership of an account to the deceased. Microsoft’s team will take the content of the deceased (or incapacitated) user and transfer it on to a DVD, which they then ship to you. You can request the content by emailing Microsoft Custodian of Records at msrecord@microsoft.com
  • Planning Ahead: You can leave your log-in information with a trusted family member or friend and they would be able to continue using the account.
  • What happens if you don’t plan?: Your family can contact Microsoft’s Custodian of Records to receive the DVD mentioned above, however they cannot continue to use the account.

Yahoo Accounts deceased user policy

  • Yahoo’s Deceased User Policy: Yahoo’s Terms of Service (TOS) state that a users Yahoo account and its content are not transferable in any event.
  • Planning Ahead: Again, the best plan may be to share your log-in information with a trusted friend or family member; use an online service to store and protect your username and password; or put the log-in information into a trust.
  • What happens if you don’t plan? Family members or a representative may request from yahoo that the account be closed and any billing or premium services suspended. All content on the yahoo account will be permanently deleted.

In Summary

While it is not possible to predict the future, it is clear than more and more of our social and business interactions are being conducted digitally. The more that our lives revolve around digital assets, the more important it is that they are able to be accessed by your loved ones. Find an estate planning attorney that is well versed in digital assets, and plan accordingly. In doing so you will help make the transfer of your assets much easier, and improve the likelihood that your wishes are upheld.

If you would like to talk about how we can incorporate your digital assets into your estate plan we would be more than happy to talk to you.