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.

Prince’s death highlights importance of writing a Will

Prince’s death highlights importance of writing a Will

Prince

The death of the world famous popstar has shone a light on how important it is to have a Will in place says Hannah Blakey.

On 21 April 2016 the Queen celebrated her 90th birthday. A day of jubilation was planned, honouring the Queen’s life and her dedication to the Commonwealth and international affairs. On the day, however, it was the death of a Prince which shared the headlines alongside the life of a Queen.

For, also on 21 April, Prince, one of the twentieth century’s greatest musical artists, was found dead in a lift on his Paisley Park estate, near Minneapolis. In interviews with friends following his death, Prince has been described as healthy in his habits, tireless at work and an energetic creator who avoided alcohol and recreational drugs. His death has therefore left investigators and mourners alike grappling with how the musician’s life could have come to such a sudden end.

The unexpected nature of Prince’s death, tragically at the age of 57, alongside a flurry of other shocking celebrity deaths in 2016, exemplifies the importance of having appropriate estate planning in place. As it is never possible to know what is waiting around the next bend, preparation is vital.

On this side of the pond, the first step that all should take, once they are over eighteen, is putting in place a Will. By doing so, it is possible to avoid the inflexible intestacy rules that would otherwise apply, ensuring that you are in control of where your estate passes. Someone in the public eye, like Prince, should also prepare the Will with publicity in mind: a Will becomes public document after a person’s death. Including a trust or overriding power in a Will not only provides flexibility to adapt to whatever the future holds (a key consideration when you are putting a Will in place which is unlikely to be needed for decades) but can also protect the identity of heirs.

A key element of putting in place a Will is considering who to appoint as executors of your estate. The executors are responsible for collecting in and distributing the estate of the person who has died in accordance with the terms of their Will. The role of an executor is one of great responsibility. It can also be an onerous job, so it is important to consider whether those chosen will have the time and abilities to take on the role, especially at what is likely to be a highly emotional period.

To aid your future executors, the Law Society’s Wills and Inheritance Quality Scheme Protocol recommends the completion and maintenance of a Personal Assets Log. By keeping an informal inventory of your assets (and storing important policy documents alongside this list), you will enable your executors to piece together more easily what you own (and if your executors are professionals, more cost-effectively).

In the technological age in which we live, it is vital that, in preparing this log, you consider leaving clear instructions about what should happen to social media, computer games and other online accounts after your death, as well as more tangible assets. Preparing a list of all your online accounts, such as email, banking, investments and social networking sites, will make it easier for executors to work out your digital legacy and adhere to your wishes. Leaving a list of accounts (rather than a list of passwords and PIN numbers) is preferable, as an executor accessing your account with passwords and PIN details could be committing a criminal offence under the Computer Misuse Act 1990.

With an estimated estate of £200 million, and with no living children or partner, it is not yet clear who will inherit Prince’s fortune or the rights to his music. Wherever his assets pass, it is undoubtable that Prince’s memory will live on through his innovative music that defined an era.

Do you need a social media will?

Do you need a social media will?

Social media users are being urged to appoint a digital executor to make sure their wishes for their accounts are respected after death.

Many people do their banking, insurance and other financial business online, as well as engage on social media platforms, without giving much thought to legal protocols.

Social media
Social media

Director of Operations at the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network Narelle Clark told Nine to Noon people are increasingly storing their personal and financial information online.

They often don’t read the fine print and have no idea what will happen to their digital footprint if they die.

Ms Clark is hosting a forum set up by Internet New Zealand in Wellington on Thursday, which will feature experts discussing the types of steps people can take to protect their digital legacy.

“What you should do is sit down and, alongside your normal will, think up all of the things you want to do with your digital footprint,” she said.

“All of this stuff that you’re accumulating online, particularly if it’s got monetary value – I can’t stress that enough, if it’s got monetary value – make sure that your designated heirs can get access to all this after you move on.”

Some people want their Facebook accounts to remain open after they die so people can visit their page and remember them. Photo: 123RF

Facebook now allows members to set up a legacy contact, allowing its user to nominate someone who will decide whether their page is shut down, or kept online as a memorial page to the deceased.

“You can also download the entire contents offline so that your family can remember your photos and so forth offline, if they want to sort through them offline rather than online, but people often find having some online presence – especially if that’s how they interacted with you – can be comforting.

“People wanted to leave it there because they can go to that person’s Facebook page and remember them and be comforted by the memories and times they had fun together, when they visited the Louvre together or Eiffel Tower or whatever they did.”

Google, meanwhile, might not hand over access to family members without a court order, to protect the privacy of people who had been in correspondence with the email account holder. However, you can also set up an inactive account manager, who might be notified if your account hasn’t been used in some time.

Twitter reserves the right to keep high-profile accounts active after the death of the original owner, with the possibility that the account might use artificial intelligence to continue tweeting.

“If Twitter decides, arguably, your account is making them a lot of money because they like advertising they could well decide not to shut it down.

“And there is now such a thing as an avatar, that can live on and tweet in your name using artificial intelligence to look at all the tweets you used to tweet.”

New Zealand Law Society has a checklist online, about what questions you should ask yourself about what you want to happen with your digital legacy after you die, and information about what different social media providers require to store, disclose or remove your content.

Planning Process

Planning Process

Although there is no national legal consensus to guide digital estate planning, you can still develop an effective plan in consultation with your attorney. At the very highest level, this process involves the following steps: Completing a digital asset inventory, identifying a digital executor and consulting with an attorney, providing access to your digital assets, providing instructions, and granting authority.

A plan implies an architect, by Sarah Ross photography, CC BY NC 2.0
A plan implies an architect/
Step 1: Complete a digital asset inventory to identify your digital assets

What to include: Examples of items to include are:

    • Hardware: For example, flash drives, US bard drives, digital cameras, backup CDs/DVDs, Computers, iPads, iPods, and other devices.
    • Networking: Router information, wireless network names and passwords
    • Software: For example, financial programs such as Quicken or online software subscription accounts, such as to Adobe Cloud
    • File structures: Information to indicate how and where files are organized on your computers and other storage devices
    • Social networking, social analytics, social curation, sharing, and online reputation management: For example, Facebook, Twitter, HootSuite, Buffer, Pinterest, Scoop.It, Paper.Li Klout, Kred
    • Professional networking: For example, LinkedIn, Plaxo, BizNik
    • Photo sharing and video: For example, Flickr, SmugMug, Shutterfly, Instagram, Vimeo, YouTube, Vine
    • Music streaming and sharing: For example, Spotify and Pandora
    • Media and online entertainment/apps stores: For example, Netflix, iTunes, Google Play, or Windows App store
    • Online presence/personal branding: For example, any websites and associated webmaster/analytics accounts, blogs, online commerce sites (if you run an online business). For example, WordPress, Blogger, Google Analytics, Google Webmaster Tools, About.Me
    • Online backup/file storage: For example, Skydrive, Dropbox, Wikispaces, Box.Net, and Google Drive.
    • Online merchants: For example, Amazon, ebay, iTunes, Nordstrom, Starbucks, or Netflix. Also, any digital subscriptions to local or national newspapers or online magazines.
    • Online gaming/virtual worlds: World of Warcraft, Second Life, XBox
    • Financial planning accounts: This includes banking, retirement, investment, credit card, loan, and insurance accounts that are accessed online.
    • Email accounts
    • Student and library accounts
    • Utility bill accounts that are paid online
    • Travel-related accounts: These could include frequent flyer mileage accounts, and travel planning accounts such as TripIt, as well as travel loyalty/rewards programs such as Hilton Honors.

If you plan to store this information online, companies such as Legacy Locker and SecureSafe provide services for this purpose. For a list of companies and the services that they provide, see The Digital Beyond website’s helpful listing and pages 10 and 11 in Estate Planning in the Digital Age by law professor Gerry Bayer.

Important: Be aware that although online services are helpful as repositories for digital asset information and instructions, it is critical to consult an attorney to ensure that you transfer assets in a legal manner. As Gerry Bayer and Naomi Cahn state:

Clients may have signed up with an on-line asset management company and so be hesitant to address these assets in the estate planning process. Clients may believe the companies’ claims that they will be able to distribute digital assets to beneficiaries or to destroy assets that the client wishes to discontinue on her death. Clients need to understand that the legality of these actions is doubtful. Although these companies can be used to store information, other estate planning methods should be used to transfer assets.

For more information, see When You Pass on, Don’t Leave the Passwords Behind.

Step 2: Identify your digital executor and consult with an attorney

Choosing your digital executor: Your digital executor will carry out your end-of-life wishes for your digital estate. You may want to choose the same executor for your digital and physical assets, choose a different executor for your digital assets, or choose multiple individuals to perform the different tasks required to administer your digital estate. Whichever approach you choose, keep in mind that accessing online accounts and carrying out specific actions such as deleting an account or archiving information, requires technical knowledge and skill. Choose someone who has sufficient experience, is technically proficient, and adept at solving problems should they arise. That person should also be impartial so that they can carry out wishes that may be difficult for less impartial individuals (such as deleting accounts that you want deleted that certain family members may not want to delete for sentimental reasons).

It is important that your digital executor comply with applicable state and federal statutes and Internet service providers’ terms of service agreements. For example, depending on the terms of service of the email provider, if your digital executor accesses your email account without the email provider’s knowledge, that action could violate the providers’ terms of service and constitute identity fraud. Preventing such issues is one reason why it is critical to choose a skilled attorney.

Choosing your attorney: If you already have an estate planning attorney who is also experienced with digital estate planning, this is ideal. If you need help finding an attorney, a reputable bar association-sponsored lawyer referral service may be one option. For information, see the American Bar Association Consumers’ Guide to Legal Help. A high-quality directory of rated lawyers such as Avvo is another option.

Step 3: Provide access to your digital assets

If you have not already done so as part of Step 1, for each digital asset, note the information required to access it. For example, note the name and type of digital asset, and where applicable, the site URL, the user name that you use to sign in/log in to the account, your password, and any answers to secret questions, if required for account logins. If you used an online service when you completed your initial digital asset inventory, you may have entered this information as part of that process.

Step 4: Provide instructions on how to administer your digital assets

Instructions may include:

  • Notifying Facebook friends, Twitter followers, LinkedIn connections, and blog readers that you have passed away or are incapacitated.
  • Deactivating/closing social media profiles, or memorializing them. For example, Facebook and Google both provide ways for appropriate designated individuals to take specific actions as follows:
    • Facebook: Facebook provides an option to memorialize a deceased person’s profile. If you choose this option, this allows for friends to share their memories on your timeline and view content that you choose to share after you pass away or have become incapacitated. It also ensure that your memorialized timeline doesn’t appear in People You May know and other suggestions.
    • Google: In April this year, Google released Inactive Account Manager, which lets you share specific parts of your account data or notify one or more trusted contacts if your account has been inactive for a minimum of three months. The contact will be notified via email and if you choose to share your data, they will be provided with links to download your data, after their identify is verified.
  • Bequeathing information that you may want to be made available to specific people.
  • Closing or continuing websites: Designating someone to maintain or close your blog and perhaps archive important information, if allowable under the Internet service provider’s terms of service.
  • Specifying information that should not be deleted, such as valuable creative works completed or in progress, personally important photos, videos, or other content.
  • Posting a final online message that can be shared with your friends, family, and colleagues (an example of a moving final message is here). For example, you may want a photo album posted or a video. A growing number of online services and applications, such as ifidie, Recollect, and Bcelebrated, provide different ways to create an online legacy.
Step 5: Grant your digital executor(s) authority to administer your digital estate

This step is crucial and where you will want to work closely with your attorney, to ensure that your digital executor is legally authorized to carry out your digital estate planning wishes and he or she does not run afoul of applicable statutes, laws, and terms of service agreements.

Make sure your online accounts get deleted when you die

Make sure your online accounts get deleted when you die

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Sarah Jacobsson Purewal/CNET

Not everyone wants to leave this earth with their online accounts being managed by relatives and next-of-kin, or just floating around on the Internet forever. If you’re the kind of person who likes your privacy — even in death — you should probably make some plans to have all of your online and social media accounts nuked when you pass away.

Some services, such as Google and Facebook, let you set up your eventual account deletion before you get anywhere close to death. Other services will keep your account forever unless an immediate family member or the executor of your estate requests it be removed. Here’s how to make sure all your loose ends are tied up, and that nobody ever gets hold of your top-secret/possibly incriminating emails and Twitter direct messages.

Google

Google’s Inactive Account Manager lets you choose what happens to your account when it becomes inactive for a certain period of time. You can set up the Inactive Account Manager to delete your Google account and all products associated with that account, including Gmail, Blogger, AdSense, and YouTube.

To set this up, log in to your Google account and go to this page. You will need to provide Google with a phone number for alerts — Google will send a message to this number before your account times out, so you know your account is about to become inactive. You will then need to select a timeout period (3 months, 6 months, 9 months, one year, 15 months, or 18 months).

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Sarah Jacobsson Purewal/CNET

Then, under Optionally delete account, turn on Delete my account. Click Enable to turn the Inactive Account Manager on, and you’re set. If you fail to log in to your account for the timeout period you selected, Google will delete your Google account and all data associated with it.

Facebook

Facebook is one of few online services that lets you set a legacy contact — someone who can manage parts of your account and memorialize your page — for when you die. Facebook also lets you delete your account when you die (though it doesn’t use inactivity to determine that you’ve passed away).

To make sure your Facebook account is deleted when you die, open Facebook and go to Settings > Security > Legacy Contact. Check the box next to Account Deletion.

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Sarah Jacobsson Purewal/CNET

You will see a pop-up box asking if you really want to delete your account in the future. Click Delete After Death and then re-enter your Facebook password to save your changes. Your account will now be deleted when Facebook is notified of your death — this means that if anybody tries to memorialize your page, it will be deleted instead of memorialized.

Use a digital legacy service

Google and Facebook give you the power to delete your account when you die, but many sites and services — such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Microsoft, and Yahoo — do not. These sites will delete the account of a deceased person at the request of an immediate family member or the executor of an estate (by the way, you can and should delineate how you want your digital life to be handled in your last will and testament). If you want to take full control, you can use a digital legacy services like Perpetu.

perpetu.png

Perpetu is an online service that covers Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, Dropbox, Flickr, LinkedIn and GitHub. You connect your accounts to Perpetu, and then you outline your final wishes for each service — for example, you can request that Perpetu delete certain emails from your Gmail account, delete tweets and direct messages from Twitter, or delete files from your Dropbox account.

The service can’t really delete actual accounts, but it can delete data and leave final updates for your friends and family to see. Perpetu’s service kicks in when the company receives a report of your death from a trusted contact with your reporting code, so it’s still a good idea to put this in your will.