Funerals and Instagram: A look at the funeral hashtags

Do You Need a Digital Estate Plan?

Will your estate executor have access to your digital estate? Do you know what is involved in a digital estate plan? It’s more than signing your paper will.

Is it enough to leave your email password on a notepad beside your computer?

Sorry, no. You need to learn more digital dos and don’ts.

Digital assets are various online or electronic files with your personal information. They include financial resources and social networks. Digital assets can include personal data with high emotional value. You could also have digital business property with monetary value. Digital assets can be stored electronically, online, in the cloud or on physical devices.

Passwords Can Control Access

Access to your online information or electronic storage is vital. Who should have access to your passwords?

When you make a will, you can appoint a digital executor. You can authorize your executor to hire experts to handle digital assets. You must, however, share passwords and login information to manage such assets.

Executors face a dilemma; in some cases, you may not have ownership of some digital property. Instead, only a non-transferrable access license may exist. Social media user agreements may only permit network access with a personal password. There is nothing to own or sell.

But executors have a duty to collect estate assets. Will they have to hunt for your passwords and usernames?

What about your material in the cloud, on social media or video sites? You can create a digital estate plan and specify your preferences. How is your executor to handle your digital accounts? Should files be closed, maintained or memorialized?

Secure Devices

Estate trustees must be aware of their duties to secure devices with digital information. This includes cell phones, tablets, laptops and computers.

Documents, photos, videos, text messages can be personal or business materials. Executors may not be able to distinguish between these.

Digital assets may have emotional and personal connections for your survivors. This may not translate to monetary value to calculate probate or income tax. However, the loss or expiry of a business domain name or blog can affect online sales and value.

Customer subscription lists and shopping carts can be stored online for businesses. Trademarks, copyrights and creative work can be considered assets and intellectual property. What about the value of an unpublished manuscript or musical composition?

Your online financial accounts may automatically pay utilities, credit card bills, income taxes or loan payments. Your digital estate property can include:

  • blogs
  • domain names
  • online photos and music
  • memorial websites
  • shopping networks
  • loyalty and reward programs

Credit card agreements may impose deadlines for the transfer of rewards or membership points.

Do Not Store Passwords in Wills

You need to store your digital information somewhere other than your will.

Once probated, your will and any password information become public. This could lead to fraud, cybercrime and identity theft.

Many online services store passwords and access codes. These may promise confidentiality. Their guarantees may be short-lived when such businesses fail. Also, digital laws will likely change and courts can order disclosure of such records.

Executors must be aware that online fees can continue to be charged and go undetected. Credit card payments or debt service accounts may have been set up for automatic payments. Without paper statements, executors may be unable to track them.

Digital worlds often have no paper trail to follow. User agreements may prohibit the transfer of passwords and access to anyone other than the registered user.

Can your executor answer your secret questions?

When asked, “What is your favourite bar beverage?” my answer is, “who’s buying?”

Is AI The Key To Eternal Life?

Important tips regarding digital estate planning

It can be hard to stay on top of all of the changing media, electronic devices and social media websites. The majority of Americans have at least one kind of digital account like e-mail, Facebook or Twitter. But, what happens to these accounts when you die? It is important for people to know how to incorporate social media into an estate plan as part of their estate administration.

Digital media is here to stay. With almost everyone having at least an email account it can be important to consider what happens to these accounts when people die. If an account is left open it can be vulnerable to hackers, as in the case of Joan Rivers. Weeks after she died her Facebook had a posting endorsing a new IPhone. There are some steps for a person to consider when coming up with a digital estate plan.

First, people should make an inventory of all digital media accounts they have. These include all email addresses, Twitter, Facebook, blogs, online backup programs, photo sites, financial accounts, ITunes, Amazon, home utilities managed online and other electronic sites. After coming up with this list, keep it in a secure location. Something like a password management program can keep all this information in one place. After having the information secured, designate a family member or trusted friend as the digital estate executor. This person will be in charge of all of the digital account information and will have your instructions of what to do with it should you die. Finally, decide what you want to do with your digital information when you die. This should be included in a digital estate plan for your executor to carry out.

Everyone should have an estate plan to make sure their wishes are carried out after death. A digital estate plan is another thing to consider, along with the more traditional wills and trusts.

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Assets online? Plan your estate for the digital age

Assets online? Plan your estate for the digital age

As we spend more of our lives online — banking, collecting credit card rewards points, playing virtual reality games, creating photo albums, emailing, tweeting — it’s increasingly important to consider how beneficiaries can access those accounts and any assets they hold, once we’re gone.

“It used to be when someone passed away, there were all these clues — a paper trail around the house about what the deceased person owned and owed,” says Karin C. Prangley, an estate attorney at Krasnow Saunders Kaplan & Beninati in Chicago. “Now there is no more paper trail. All of that is digital. It’s a big deal because it’s hard to get at that digital information.”

Ignorance can be costly. “If you can’t get into this person’s email account, if you have no idea where this person banks … the [deceased] person may have a million dollar account at Fidelity, but you just don’t know, says Prangley.

“Maybe the person had an insurance policy, maybe the person had an online store selling a specialized product, maybe there was some sort of business you as the heir don’t know about. The money goes right to the grave.”

Not having access to the deceased’s online accounts or email alerts could mean that bills normally paid online go unpaid. Since the estate is responsible for existing debt, missing those payments could cause headaches as you straighten out the problem, says Deborah L. Jacobs, author of “Estate Planning Smarts.” “If you don’t find credit card accounts quickly and bill paying is delayed and finance charges are assessed, you can most likely get the credit card companies to forgive the finance charges,” Jacobs says. “But you may have to fight them.”

The opposite situation is also a problem. Recurring bills that are on auto-pay may continue to be paid even after the product or service is no longer needed.

“We’ve seen instances where someone has been dead for years and they’re still paying for The Economist online,” says Jacobs.

Finding financial accounts

Without a list of financial accounts, finding them can be tricky, but there are steps you can take. The easiest: check the person’s wallet, pocket, desk and drawers for the receipts, Jacobs says. “Even if you’re doing almost everything online, those receipts may be in their pockets.”

To find open accounts, such as credit cards that aren’t regularly being used and generating receipts or bills, you can get a copy of the deceased person’s credit report from one or all of the three consumer credit reporting agencies, TransUnion, Experian and Equifax. But you’ll need documentation, agency representatives say.

For example, all three require a copy of the death certificate and proof that you have power of attorney or are executor of the estate.

Beyond banking

In addition to banking and investment accounts, many people access their airline, hotel and other rewards programs online, says Glenn C. Williamson, CEO and founder of WebCease Inc. in Portland, Ore., which helps heirs track down those digital assets. “I personally have half a million Hyatt points, valued at $35,000 to $45,000,” Williamson says.

… Maybe there was some sort of business you as the heir don’t know about. The money goes right to the grave.
— Karin C. Prangley, Estate planning attorney

The potential dollar loss goes beyond financial accounts and rewards programs to items you may not think of immediately, Prangley says. “What’s the cost of losing a lifetime of photos? What happens to unique weapons held by a World of Warcraft master? What about wins in offshore, online poker accounts?”

North American respondents to a survey by security giant McAfee valued their digital assets at an average of $54,722 with listed assets including music downloads, photos, emails, financial and health records, career information and contacts, and hobbies and creative projects.

Even a great-grandfather may have digital assets if he’s been online, says Williamson. “We did one 91-year-old guy who didn’t even have an email address and he had hotel points,” he says. Another man in his 80s had a separate Facebook account for selling RVs — news to his family, Williamson says.

Finding assets online can be time-consuming. First, heirs have to know an account exists. Second, they have to be able to gain access to that account via usernames and passwords.

“People are grieving,” says Jacobs, the author. “This is adding an extra hardship.”

Williamson estimates it took him 25 hours to find his mother’s online accounts after she passed away, which gave him the idea for WebCease. WebCease routinely searches about 60 nonfinancial online accounts, including photography sites such as Flickr, hotel and airline rewards programs, social media sites and e-commerce sites including Amazon, PayPal, Netflix and eBay.

WebCease researchers will personalize the search and look for additional accounts when necessary, Williamson says. For instance, in the case of the RV enthusiast, they searched various campground websites to see if the deceased had a membership with valuable rewards or resale potential. “We wouldn’t typically search on those, but when my researchers make a correlation they will go further than our standard list.”

WebCease lets its clients know what it finds, and then gives them each site’s policies and information on how to transfer the digital assets and how to shut down the account, Williamson says.

Rescuing vital records

Passwords are the next hurdle. Even if you as the executor or heir have written permission from the deceased account holder to access accounts, without the proper passwords, online providers may not give you the content, says Hazel Sanchez, estate planning attorney at the Law Offices of Rhonda H. Brink in Austin, Texas.

Some online providers, if they were to find out the account holder is deceased, would simply close the account and delete all the information on it.
— Hazel Sanchez, Estate planning attorney

“Each one has different procedures,” says Sanchez. “Some online providers, if they were to find out the account holder is deceased, would simply close the account and delete all the information on it.”

Sanchez recommends that if you do have access to usernames and passwords, you print out hard copies of financial information so that even if the accounts are later deleted, you’ll have the information you need.

Technically in these cases, you could be liable for unlawful access of data, but it’s not likely an heir would be prosecuted. “They talk about liability of unauthorized access, but nobody ever enforces it,” Sanchez says. “It’s more important for the fiduciary to gain control of assets and prevent deletion of information before anything happens.”

Sanchez says a little pre-emptive action can prevent any problems related to unauthorized access. “We recommend will provisions that give the executor authority to access the deceased’s digital assets and accounts,” she says.

Shutting down fraud

Eventually, though, you’ll want to make sure you close accounts for security reasons. The identities of nearly 2.5 million people are misused every year to apply for credit, according to a 2012 study by ID Analytics.

“You don’t want mom’s profile out there,” says WebCease’s Williamson. “When you die, it’s public record. It’s so much easier to steal a deceased person’s identity.”

When you die, it’s public record. It’s so much easier to steal a deceased person’s identity.
— Glenn C. Williamson, CEO and founder of WebCease

To prevent fraud and identity theft, notify credit card companies and other lenders that the person has died, says Maxine Sweet, president of public education at Experian. “They will report the deceased status to the credit reporting companies and it will automatically become part of the file, preventing fraud,” she says. “If the deceased was receiving Social Security benefits, the Social Security Administration also should be notified and [SSA] will also report that information to us.”

Even if you’re not looking for open accounts, you still should contact the credit reporting agencies with a copy of the death certificate, so the credit file can be updated, says Clifton O’Neal, vice president of corporate communications at TransUnion.

You may also want to contact the Direct Marketing Association to have the deceased removed from marketing mailing lists, Sweet says. “Having those arrive in the mail can be painful for the relatives,” she says.

Planning your digital afterlife

You can prevent many of these hassles for your own heirs by making preparations now. A few simple measures can lessen or eliminate the need for your loved ones to become online sleuths after you’re gone.

Keep a snail mail trail

Even if you do business mostly online, elect to receive some paper statements so your heirs will find out about your accounts from mail delivery, says Jacobs, the author. “Even though I favor cutting down on the paper in our lives, this is not the place to do it,” she says.

Consolidate your accounts

Combining financial accounts or at least moving assets to a small number of providers makes them easier to keep track of, Jacobs says. “I know of a number of elderly people who have certificates of deposit at 50 different banks,” Jacobs says.

Finding the records could be sheer luck. Jacobs and her husband went to one bank her mother-in-law used to cash in one of her CDs and the bank officer told the couple she had a second CD that they hadn’t known about.

List account information

Make a list of accounts with the name of the financial institution, account number and how it’s titled and put it in a folder if you’re comfortable having that information at your house, Jacobs says.

If not, make one list of user IDs and a separate list of passwords, Sanchez suggests. Give each list to a different person and tell your executor those people’s names so the two lists can be put together when you pass away, she says.

She acknowledges that keeping the list up to date could be time-consuming, but says it’s necessary. “We think it’s very important for everybody to make a list inventory of what they have,” Sanchez says.

Name an online executor

As you make that list of user names and passwords, consider naming an online executor, who could be separate from your overall estate executor, says Prangley, the estate attorney. An online executor would identify and provide information to your family about your online accounts and digital assets and they could sell what might be useful to others, she says. Further, the online executor could delete any emails or other online communication that might hurt your family members, she says.

“Some people have separate online lives,” she says. “Your executor might delete your online flirting.”

What is Digital Estate Planning and Why Do I Need it?

Estate planning for digital assets: still only prudent planning

We all use digital devices with associated media every day. The result is we have created our own digital history or ‘digital assets’.  The important question with digital assets, as with other assets, is what happens to those assets in the event of incapacity or death?  Failure to plan for incapacity or death can pose risks for digital assets.  In this bulletin, we explore why and how estate planning for digital assets is simply another part of prudent planning.

What are digital assets?

Digital assets include all your online accounts and hard storage devices that contain data which can be both personal and financial information.  Online accounts include social networking, email, cloud storage, pay pal accounts or other financial accounts.  Hard storage devices include laptops, desktops and external storage drives locked by encryption.

Risks minimised by prudent planning

It is prudent to plan what to do with your digital assets in the event of incapacity or death so you may minimise certain risks, including;

  • The prevention of required asset transfers to family members who may not have access to or awareness of your digital assets.
  • Identity theft after death which may jeopardise digital assets or lead to loss for estate beneficiaries.
  • Issues with social media, including pages being defaced and awkward invitations to a deceased person because of a continuing online presence.

Planning for incapacity

The most commonly suggested plan is to create a digital inventory of all your assets with the usernames, passwords and secret questions, to allow easy access to your information by a nominated person.

Although there are numerous internet sites already offering online inventories or registers, it could however be simply and easily created as a digital document stored on a USB or as a hardcopy.

The inventory should list all your digital assets with their respective access details.  It should be stored in a secure place.  Secure places include a bank deposit box, your lawyer’s safe custody room or with a commercial service provider such as security safe or legacy locker, who store data and allow access to nominated persons.  The inventory should be kept secret so that only the nominated person can have access to it. Therefore, it should be kept in a sealed envelope.

However, creating an inventory does have one limitation; the inventory may need to be updated regularly, as some accounts require passwords to be changed periodically.  For these accounts it would be prudent to back up any information on to hard storage if possible in the event the inventory is not updated.

The most important part of planning for incapacity is to sign an enduring power of attorney.  This will allow you to appoint someone that you trust who is ‘tech savvy’ to deal with your digital assets effectively and properly.  The power of attorney document can also include specific provisions that allow your attorney (as far as possible) to manage and deal with your digital assets.

Planning for death

Part of your estate planning should be to deal with the transfer of the access details to your digital assets.  Your Will may include a clause that will give power to your executor to handle and manage your digital assets in accordance with the terms of your Will.

Your executor should also have an inventory of your digital assets so the executor knows what assets exist.  The inventory should remain separate from the Will in a sealed envelope because of the sensitive nature of the information.  The inventory should be updated and re-sealed as required.

It is important to keep in mind that despite appropriate Will powers, executors may still be limited in what they can do with some digital assets.  Providers of online accounts require users to accept their terms of use agreements that determine ownership and authority of the information in user accounts.  In most cases, users do not own the uploaded information or associated rights to that information.  In addition, the providers may refuse access to an executor or next of kin.

Some providers offer after life options.  For example, Facebook has a memorial feature allowing friends and families to request that a deceased account become effectively frozen.  Google has launched “Inactive Account Manager” allowing users to provide Google with specific instructions about what to do with their data when they die.  The majority of social media and financial providers do not offer after life options with their online accounts.

Also, online digital assets (except website domains) are not the same as the assets that form part of your estate.  These assets are not a form of personal property that a court can order to be transferred like physical property, because there is no current law in NSW that governs them.  Therefore, in order to minimise the associated risks it is prudent that you consider digital estate planning.

Conclusion

The law is still developing and changing in this area.  Modern forms of wealth and asset ownership will continue to change and evolve.  It is only prudent estate planning to consider and attempt to deal with all your assets in any shape or form in the event of your incapacity or death.