What is a Digital Legacy? A Digital Legacy is your virtual, secure, safe deposit box. It contains your key information, wishes and life documents in a centralized online portal. This is your tool for managing all of your life documents and leaving your legacy organized for your heirs. Benefits […]
When you draft a will, it is important that you store it in a safe location. For some people a safe location is under their bed, on the top shelf in their closet, inside a floor board or in the freezer. Others feel better having their last will and testament in the hands of a trusted relative or friend. Since your will explains what will become of your earthly assets and possessions after you die, it is of the utmost importance that it be protected from theft, tampering and destruction (accidental or intentional).
Given the number of external factors that can affect wills — fire, disgruntled heirs, humidity, desiccation — it is common for testators to store their wills in safe deposit boxes. If you have a relative who recently passed away and he or she left a safe deposit box behind that contains a will, it is important that you access the box as soon as possible. According to New Jersey State law, the personal representative of the deceased’s estate is allowed to access his/her safe deposit box in order to retrieve the will.
“On December 12, 2011 the Director re-issued the blanket waiver originally issued in 1992 authorizing the immediate release of the contents of a safe deposit box (to the qualified representative). The waiver is effective for the period from January 1, 2012 to January 1, 2017” See theState of New Jersey Department of of the Treasury Website.
Thus, a nominated executor can ask the bank to open a safe deposit box of the decedent, in the presence of a bank officer, to search to see if the Will or cemetery deed are located in the box. The person making the request has to be able to show that he/she is the nominated executor, and usually provide a copy of the death certificate. Then if the Will is located in the safe deposit box (and perhaps the cemetery deed as well) the bank officer is supposed to release those documents to the nominated executor so that he/she can go probate the Will. Once the Will is probated, the qualified executor then has the authority to go bank to the bank to review the contents of the safe deposit box with the bank officer, who may inventory the assets. The assets are inventoried, and then released to the qualified personal representative.
Despite the above, it is recommended that a client does NOT store an original Will or power of attorney in a safe deposit box; banks do not always easily comply with the request to have access for purpose of searching for the Will, even though they are supposed to do so. Also, if the safe deposit box does not have a co-signer, and the authority to access the box under the power of attorney which is also in the box, then the agent can’t get to it.
But in the era of smartphones and cloud computing services, that same stuff may be stored in digital formats on servers scattered across the globe. You may keep documents online or use email as a catchall for paperless receipts, insurance information or financial transactions. And don’t forget the photos, videos and musings left behind at social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Flickr.
So how do you make sure all that information — protected by who knows how many passwords — is handled the way you would like after you’re gone? Two words: Plan ahead.
Providers that store digital content are restricted in how they can disclose it to someone other than the account holder. Much of it is protected by privacy laws. And terms of service agreements for things like free email may prevent companies from disclosing that material to anyone without a court order.
“We are in a gray area right now where the technology has progressed faster than the laws,” said Laura E. Hoexter, an estate-planning lawyer at the law firm Helsell Fetterman in Seattle.
Some states have passed laws to address aspects of these issues. For example, a 2013 Virginia law makes it easier for family members to see content in cases of the death of a minor. And the Delaware Legislature just this week passed a bill that seeks to ease access to content.
The Uniform Law Commission, a nonprofit association that looks for ways to bring about uniformity in important areas of law, is also working on a law that could eventually apply to all states.
The commission wants to ease access to content while also honoring a user’s privacy wishes. It hopes all 50 states will adopt its proposal so a single set of guidelines would standardize the process for users, providers and heirs, said Suzanne Walsh, chairwoman of the committee drafting the law, called the Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act.
While the legal issues are being untangled you can plan ahead. Google, for example, offers a tool to help its users deal with the problem. Called Inactive Account Manager, it allows you to designate up to 10 people to receive content from sources like your mail, documents or blogs. You may also choose to have content deleted after you have died.
When the account becomes inactive, your designees are notified and receive the content you chose to share. They do not receive a means of logging in to your account.
Some lawyers view Google’s planning tool as a model to emulate.
“Other companies haven’t started doing this yet, but I’m hopeful they will,” said James D. Lamm, an estate-planning lawyer at Gray Plant Mooty, a law firm in Minneapolis and the author of digitalpassing.com, a blog that tracks these issues.
And if companies aren’t doing this for you, one of the surest ways to pass on content is to keep copies on your computer. You can make a habit of saving copies of important documents, sentimental photos, Facebook content or purchased content like music. One handy tool to capture web content is called ScrapBook, a free Firefox extension created by Taiga Gomibuchi, a programmer in Tokyo.
But if you download, make sure your material is secure. That means backing up to an external drive with programs like Apple’s Time Machine, or File History in Windows 8. Also, encrypt your computer’s disk and the backup drive. And if you share a computer, make sure your private content is secure, because another user with administrator rights may have access. Programs like 7-Zip can pack away confidential files in encrypted archives.
Some lawyers suggest including a digital executor in your will. This person is responsible for carrying out your wishes for your online content. This is no guarantee the content will be disclosed, they said, but it may help if laws eventually change.
“What would you want them to do if you were allowed to do it?” Ms. Hoexter said. This strategy includes creating a list of your online accounts, with passwords included, she said, and storing it where you can update it easily and your digital executor can find it.
Divulging your passwords is risky, of course, even to someone you trust. But there is no simple way to do this securely while ensuring your passwords are current.
Numerous online services offer features that can transfer passwords and other personal data after you die. PasswordBox, a password manager that hooks into your web browser, has a transfer feature called Legacy. SecureSafe, based in Zurich, offers a tool for transferring passwords.
Of course, putting information like that online exposes it to hackers, government snoops or even the unforeseen security bug.
Instead, you may choose to store passwords on your computer. Many programs are available, including Password Safe and KeePass. There are also encrypted portable devices like SplashID Key Safe. You can stash one in a fireproof box and give your master password to a friend or your lawyer.
The law may one day catch up with technology. But in the meantime, it’s wise to make sure you’re using technology to deal with the dilemmas technology has created.
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.