Digital Estate Planning

Digital Estate Planning

When writing a will or planning your estate you should also think about your digital assets and what will happen to them once you are gone.

A lot of people are not taking their digital estate into account when putting their will together, despite the fact that it could be worth thousands of pounds. Things like music files, films, ebooks, PayPal balances, online bank accounts and registered domain names all add up, and many people are sitting on a fortune in digital assets. Aside from the monetary value of digital property, there is also sentimental value to think about. Photos that are stored online could become inaccessible to your loved ones unless you specify your wish to pass your accounts on.

It’s Good to Talk

There may be assets that your family aren’t even aware of too. Talking about your will with your family is often considered a taboo, but it is vital to include your loved ones in the planning process and make them aware of any property they may not know about – particularly digital property. Compiling a list of any online accounts you own, as well as important or valuable files and their locations is the best way of ensuring they are passed on. Keeping an inventory will also help you to organise your digital assets to make the process easier. There are various password management services online which store usernames and passwords to any online accounts you have. This service is then accessed by a single master password which can be given to an executor so they can access all the information they need in one place.

Planning in Advance

Complications can arise when transferring digital assets. Handing over digital media such as music, films and ebooks may depend on the terms of service. Some providers may stipulate that despite paying for the product, you don’t actually own it, therefore cannot transfer ownership to another person. Some services actually require a death certificate to be presented in order to close or transfer ownership of an account or device. If you are planning to store your digital media with an online storage provider such as Dropbox, check the terms of service. Storing your media in one place, only for your relatives to find out they are unable to access your account after you have died could be devastating.

One of the best ways to ensure you secure your digital legacy is to seek help from professionals. If you would like advice or assistance on writing a will, please get in touch.

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…

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.

Funerals and Instagram: A look at the funeral hashtags

Estate planning in the digital age

By Stephanie Reid

For the average person making a will, the concept of “digital assets” and planning for the transfer of one’s digital life has simply not been on the will writer’s radar. Until now, that is.

Historically, surviving loved ones had no real right to access the digital files and secure online accounts of a decedent. Absent personal knowledge of the departed’s password and login, family members were left to deal with a labyrinth of legal obstacles erected by well-meaning tech companies, mostly for purposes of online security and privacy.

As a result, Facebook and Instagram pages remained online indefinitely, allowing anyone to leave messages, secure screenshots, or access the deceased’s information. Moreover, blogs, websites, accounts, and secured digital creations were left in limbo, as executors are not generally granted access to these assets in the boilerplate language of a will or trust.

Fortunately, a new influx of laws is set to change all that, particularly given the recent completion of the Model Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act, which many states are considering and a number have recently ratified. The UFADAA provides a framework through which executors and trustees can access the deceased’s digital life, providing much-needed peace of mind for those with substantial assets stored online or in the cloud.

Basics of the UFADAA

The model UFADAA, completed in 2015, revised several provisions of the 2014 version, which many believed encroached a bit too far on the privacy rights of the deceased. The 2015 version addresses a wide array of issues concerning digital asset ownership, including:

  • A specific procedural framework for executors and trustees to follow when seeking access to digital assets
  • Regulations concerning the disclosure of digital assets, content, and information derived from the digital asset itself
  • Duties of the executor or trustee in handling digital assets, including the fiduciary duties of loyalty, confidentiality, and fair dealing
  • Custodial compliance in the interim period between the death of the asset holder and the transfer of the asset

An executor or trustee needs to understand the extent and limitations of the UFADAA. For instance, the UFADAA permits fiduciaries to access files stored in the cloud, as well as web domains and even virtual currency (e.g., bitcoin). However, there are certain restrictions that every trustee or executor should consider before attempting to access the digital assets of the deceased under the provisions of the UFADAA.

What the UFADAA cannot do

While the provisions of the UFADAA undoubtedly provide a convenient tool for fiduciaries seeking to protect the interests of the deceased, they can’t override the terms of a validly-executed estate plan. More specifically, if the decedent had already made arrangements for the handling of digital assets after death—and the plan does not include the trustee or executor in its administration—the estate plan will trump the fiduciary rights listed in the UFADAA.

Further, the language of the UFADAA does not cover digital communications, including emails, text messages, and social media accounts. Unless the decedent expressly consented to allow the fiduciary access to this information (i.e., via power of attorney, will, or trust), the fiduciary will need to work through the tech company’s legal department to gain access, which is often discretionary and granted on an “as needed” basis.

Lastly, the UFADAA does not have any bearing over an account that is held jointly with another person or persons. Upon the death of one account holder, the remaining account holders enjoy unfettered access to the digital assets and information, and a fiduciary cannot intervene in this ownership right, even for good cause.

In the meantime…

What can digital account holders in states that have yet to ratify the UFADAA do? Digital estate planning is a blossoming legal niche and one everyone should think about implementing, particularly if profitable blogs or websites are at stake. While contemplating one’s own demise is never comfortable, consultation with a competent digital estate planner can save family and beneficiaries a huge amount of effort and stress in the long run.

About the Author

Stephanie Reid obtained her J.D. from Regent University School of Law and her Bachelor of Arts degree from Florida State University. After two years in private practice, Stephanie has opened her own law firm, Stephanie Reid Law. Her practice offers innovative web-based legal services for estate planning, family law and business clients. Stephanie also writes for AvvoStories, brought to you by Avvo, the leading online legal marketplace connecting consumers and lawyers. Avvo’s free Q&A forum with more than 9 million questions and answers, along with on-demand legal services that provide professional counsel for a fixed cost, make legal faster and easier.

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.