After hearing the words “estate plan,” some people may think of a will or a trust. These are important legal documents, but there is so much more to consider when thinking about estate planning. When considering how complex estate planning can be, it is understandable that some elements may […]
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Americans are creating online data at an alarming rate, and it is increasing exponentially. Each minute of the day, online users share roughly 2.5 million pieces of content on Facebook, Tweet 2.8 million times, post 2.2 million photos on Instagram, and swipe over 400,000 times on Tinder. On top of social media, people may use a combination of other online accounts – email, financial, blogs, photo-sharing, and online data storage services.
This adds up to a large amount of “digital property” or “digital assets” for most individuals. It should, therefore, seem commonplace to include a plan for your digital estate in a Last Will & Testament to ensure this sensitive data remains secure and is managed properly after one’s death. Otherwise, this data could be vulnerable to identity thieves and hackers who target the records of approximately 2.5 million deceased individuals a year.
What is Your Digital Estate?
A person’s digital estate is made up of all the information about themselves or created by themselves that exists in digital forms, either on the internet or on some sort of electronic storage device. This article will help you better understand the many different kinds of “digital assets” you might own.
Types of Digital Property
- Personal digital property
- Personal digital property with monetary value
- Digital business property
Personal Digital Property
Your personal digital property includes any information or data that you store electronically – online, on the cloud, or on external hardware. Examples include:
- Computing hardware – computers, external hard drives, flash drives, tablets, smartphones, digital music players, digital cameras, and any other digital devices
- Online accounts – email accounts, social media accounts, shopping accounts, photograph or video sharing platforms, video gaming accounts, online storage, websites or blogs you manage
- Intellectual property – copyrighted materials and trademarked items
Personal Digital Property with Monetary Value
This is not completely separate from the list above, but includes digital property that brings in some sort of monetary value or generates revenue. Examples include:
- Computing hardware – computers, external hard drives, flash drives, tablets, smartphones, digital music players, digital cameras, and any other digital devices of monetary value
- Websites that generate revenue
- Payment platforms – Paypal, Amazon Payments, Google Wallet, bank accounts, loyalty rewards programs, and accounts with credit balances in your favor
Digital Business Property
This includes digital property that is owned by a business organization, either your business or your employer. Examples include:
- Online accounts registered to the business
- Assets to sell on an online store – eBay, Etsy, Amazon, etc
- Mailing lists, newsletter subscriptions, or email lists with the names of company clients
- Client information and customer history
Other Digital Property to Manage
It is not just online data that you need to secure in order to keep your digital estate safe. There are numerous external hardware devices that can contain either valuable or sensitive data. Here are some examples and what content needs to be secured:
- External hard drives – all contents
- Smart phones and mobile phones – call history, text history, photographs, videos, location data, contact list, online access through applications, and other content
- Tablets – all contents
- Computers – all contents
- Digital music player – personal data and online store accounts
- Digital camera – photographs or videos
- E-readers – personal data and online store accounts
It has become common for people to have a wide variety of online accounts. Each one of these accounts likely required some sensitive data – name, age, gender, email address – in order to open it. Beyond this personal data, many of these accounts generate and host a lot more personal information about you that makes up a large portion of your digital estate and therefore, needs to be managed. Consider these digital assets:
- Social media accounts
- Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and other, including any content you shared and any correspondences you had on those platforms
- Online communication tools
- Skype, FaceTime, IM, iChat, WhatsApp, Line, Facebook Messenger, Gchat, and any data or conversations you have shared on those platforms
- Email accounts
- Any conversations or data you have shared
- Photo and video sharing platforms
- Instagram, Youtube, Flickr, Photobucket, Picasa, and others, including any content you shared, personal data in account settings, and correspondences you had
- Writing or content you created, history of interactions with readers or users, and any income that was generated as a result
- Online shopping accounts
- Personal information stored in account settings – credit card information, address, purchase history, and credit card information or online credit you have with the company
- Video gaming accounts
- In-game or in-app purchase history, account information, and any in-game assets you acquired
- Online storage accounts
- Dropbox, Goggle Drive, and other cloud storage, including any data and information stored there
- Loyalty programs
- Credit cards, airlines, car rental companies, hotels, and other, including any benefits you have collected
Your digital estate can also include intellectual property that you have created whether there are physical elements or not. Intellectual property can often have monetary value or the potential for future gains. Intellectual property can include:
- Registered trademarks
- Copyrighted digital materials
By being aware of what digital property you own, you can begin to grasp what makes up your entire digital estate, and, as you can see from the lists above, this can include a vast web of online accounts and personal data. Although it might seem like a daunting task, it’s important to keep track of all of this sensitive online data. One day, you will have to include this information as part of your digital estate planning in order for the Executor, or Digital Executor, of your Will to have the ability to manage your digital property. Without a plan to keep this data secure, identity thieves and hackers can pose a serious threat to your digital assets and, in turn, your loved ones.
Movies and television often portray wills as mysterious documents that guard hidden treasures over which many family feuds ensue. However, in real life, a will is a legal document containing your final wishes.
Depending on how you draft your will, the size of your estate and the number of heirs you leave behind, your legacy may very well be the stuff of daytime TV dramas. It is important to understand the power your will has while you’re alive and after you leave this world. If you have substantial assets and properties, the existence of your will may influence the behavior of future heirs while you are alive (see soap opera reference again). How effective your will is depends on how clearly it is written, whether it is drafted by an experienced attorney and whether it is updated often.
Assuming all of these criteria are met, your last will and testament has the power to accomplish the following tasks after you die:
• Ensuring your pet is taken care of — It’s true, you can leave funds aside, property and even an assigned caretaker to ensure your pet lives a happy life.
• Donating your assets to charity — Do you have a favorite charity that you would like to benefit from your wealth when you’re gone? Your will has the power to ensure such wishes are met.
• Dividing your estate up equally — In the event that you have more than one heir (e.g., a spouse and children), you can instruct to have your assets divided equally among everyone.
• Disinheriting your expected heirs — Alternatively, you can leave your heirs nothing.
• Providing instructions should you become incapacitated — You can even include in your will instructions for family members about what they should do if you should become mentally or physically incapacitated and unable to answer for yourself.
The will of Henry VIII of England is one of the most famous examples of how powerful a will can be. In Henry VIII’s will, it named the succession of heirs to the house of Tudor. You might not realize it, but by creating a will and deciding who receives your assets, you are in fact creating a succession of sorts.
Alec Borenstein is a Partner at BMC Estate Planning. Alec went to Loyola Law School in Los Angeles where he graduated cum laude and in the top 10% of his class. Alec is also a Member of the Order of the Coif. In 2006-2007 Alec served as the Chief Articles Editor for Volume 40 of the Loyola Law Review. Alec is admitted in New York and New Jersey and practices in both states and in the Federal Courts. Alec is also an award-winning speaker and business coach. Alec was recently a business development consultant for The Rainmaker Institute, until Alec came back to practice as an estate planning attorney in New Jersey.
We’re splashing increasing amounts of cash on digital products like music, TV shows and films.
The average iTunes user spends $48 (£31.47) every year, according to one estimate. If we did that every year from 2001, when iTunes started, we’d have forked out £440.63.
But while in the past music lovers could pass on their record collection, our digital rights are far less clear.
Emma Myers, from Saga Legal Services, said: “Many people use the internet to download films, music and TV shows.
“What you may not realise is that you are sometimes not paying to own the content in a real sense, more that you are paying for a licence to use it during your lifetime.”
So how DO you preserve your iTunes collection for the next generation?
We asked Saga for the rules:
Share your Apple ID
Currently, you cannot get Apple to delete an account. But if your loved ones have access to your Apple ID and password they can edit the personal information.
The family can click here to manage the Apple ID. Once they’ve signed in, they can change the name of the account and the address.
In effect they create a new account and have access to anything the deceased downloaded. Include the personal information of the intended beneficiary to avoid any problems.
They can also contact customer services on 0844 209 0611 or 0800 107 6285.
Dealing with a digital legacy
If someone dies, they can leave behind a large amount of unfinished business online. Some of it will be entirely personal. In other cases there may be sums of money held in online accounts.
Send eBay a copy of the death certificate along with the deceased member’s username, e-mail address, full name, full address, and contact phone number.
eBay also ask for a record of the person making the account closure request. This could be a copy of a driving licence of passport.
Once eBay receives this information, they will close the account and write off any outstanding fees. The account can only be closed when the balance is £0.
To inherit Nectar points, the legal heir or executor must call 0344 811 0811 with the deceased’s name and date of birth.
If the balance stands at more than 40,000 points, written confirmation from the executor of the Will must be provided, by post to: Freepost RRXL-TGET-CGZX, Nectar, Clipper Boulevard, Dartford, DA2 6QB.
Send a copy of the death certificate to firstname.lastname@example.org along with the deceased’s name. The next of kin will receive any remaining funds in the account.
Send the deceased;’s death certificate and information to email@example.com. Ask that the outstanding balance be returned to the estate.
E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org with a copy of the death certificate and proof that the person claiming the funds is related to the deceased. For example show the same surname, or a birth or marriage certificate.
Customer services will close the account and transfer the remaining balance.
Send the Oyster card number and a copy of the death certificate to email@example.com.
To close the account, the estate executor should fax the following to 0870 730 3194:
- A cover sheet that states the account holder is deceased and the executor wants to close the
- PayPal account
- A copy of the death certificate for the account holder
- A copy of the deceased account holder’s Will or legal documentation that provides the information regarding the executor
- A letter stating the intentions, for example: changing the name of the account holder, closing the account
- A copy of a photo ID of the executor
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It’s a tangled Web we leave when it comes to managing digital assets after death.
Email, blogs, financial accounts, Internet properties, files and social networks live on after we’re no longer physically here—and without the passwords, family and loved ones can be shut out from important information at a difficult time.
Identity thieves cause additional heartache by stealing personal information of the deceased and spamming friends and relatives. Nowhere is that more prevalent that on social networks. Friend requests and recommendations may be made to and from the deceased through automated programs, mutual friends or hackers. And while social networks have policies on deactivating accounts of the deceased, they usually require additional proof in the form of death certificates and published obituaries.
Increasingly, attorneys and estate planners recommend naming beneficiaries to one’s digital content, that is giving them access to log-in information, much like they would with bank accounts, stocks and safe deposit boxes.
Some survivors, at least on Facebook, create a “fan page” for friends to post photos and words of remembrance in memory of a loved one. But if deactivating accounts is your goal—and it’s the most secure method to prevent spam and possible hacking—here’s what you need to know:
Instead of allowing a family member to simply take control of a deceased user’s account, the largest social media website—with more than 1 billion users worldwide—lets them either memorialize or delete the account.
Memorialized accounts don’t accept new friends and, depending on privacy settings, allow only confirmed friends to visit the page to view photographs and leave posts of remembrance. Content that the deceased shared, such as photos or posts, remains visible to the audience it was previously shared with, but memorialized timelines don’t appear in People You May Know and other suggestions.
When closing the deceased’s account, proof of death is required, such as an obituary, news article or Internet link. Unlike other social media services, Facebook allows non-family members to perform this task.
To deactivate an account, Twitter says it will “work with a person authorized to act on the behalf of the estate or with a verified immediate family member of the deceased.” It requires, via mail or fax to 415-865-5405, the username on the account, a copy of the deceased user’s death certificate, a copy of the requester’s driver’s license or other government-issued ID, and other information, such as the relationship to the deceased. Family members can save a backup of the deceased’s Tweets.
Anyone, family or not, can request to delete the account of a deceased member. The process starts by answering questions on an online form signed electronically and providing proof of death—a death certificate, obituary, news article or Internet link.
Several months ago, Google launched an Inactive Account Manager feature that allows users to share information after they die on company sites including Gmail, Blogger, Picasa and YouTube. If there’s a period of inactivity, from three to 18 months, Google will first try to contact the account holders. If there’s no response, it alerts friends or family members who can access whatever personal data you granted.
To access or deactivate a deceased user’s account, an authorized representative of an estate must apply directly to Google. The process consists of two stages: First, reps must provide, by mail or fax to 650-396-4502, their contact information and proof of identity, along with the deceased’s death certificate and Gmail address. Then, after what may take months, properly vetted reps must provide additional legal documents, including an order from a U.S. court.