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

Eradicating Memories – Corporate Responsibility of Digital Legacy

6 year old Jennifer Atkins was just like any other teenager; she liked to use email, faceebook, twitter, tumblr, and blog. She was taking the fullest advantage of the digital age. What set Jennifer apart from other teenage girls was that she was battling a hard war against a disease since she was 12. Jennifer not only discussed her life as a cancer patient – the triumphs, defeats, but also tried to be a normal teenager interacting with friends and family over the internet. The story of Jennifer does not end happily as she passed away in November.

With her passing left her family with much sorrow and anguish, but they tried to move forward and find relief from Jennifer herself. The family had hired a computer expert to use Jennifer’s laptop to find all her passwords so they could relive the life of their family member. Once the computer expert had successfully gotten access to the computer and passwords Jennifer is family began exploring their loved one is life. They found poems, inspirational messages and even some deep and disturbing information. Yet for the family this was more peaceful and a way to never let go of their loved one.
Unfortunately for Jennifer is family the networks that Jennifer had used to communicate and leave the messages they read began to catch wind of what they were doing. Thus beginning the slow process of shutting down Jennifer is accounts, and killing any memories of Jennifer that the family had left.

The issue, sites such as facebook, tumblr, twitter, yahoo, and blog sites had issues with what the family was doing as it went against their terms of services. These sites are very conscious of what new and prospective users might think. If new users thought that these sites could give families access to personal files they may shy away. This might be especially true to people who are estranged from their family. Facebook does give you the option to close accounts down or turn a decease person is page into a memory page (as long as no one logs into the person is account). Yahoo on the other hand will terminate and delete files in their new term user agreement – anyone signing up for yahoo agrees that once dead their account will be deleted.

It is this corporate need to stay protected that caused Jennifer’s family to lose the remaining memories of their daughter. No matter what Jennifer might have wanted, could not matter because the terms of services now days are focused to stop anyone, including families from getting access. Jennifer is family may never getting to know her daughters final thoughts beyond what they had little time to read. This just goes to leave the question, do you have access to your own digital legacy when you sign up for third party sites and are you ready to lose it all and leave nothing for your family if you die? 

Who will get your iTunes when you die?

Control of a digital property – AA case

We often forget that digital property is part of our daily lifes, especially when the conditions create distance between us and the physical world. This is the case with Alison Atkins. She died at 16, of a long struggle with disease, and got more and more connected to the online due to her situation.

Because her sister could not gain access to her computer at first, then to the online services which hosted her writings, poems and pictures, the accounts have been closed one after another, like parts of her online existence getting erased.

The reason behind this is that the law, privacy law, makes it great for living users to control their information, but nothing is prepared for the death of the very same users. To make things even more complicated, these laws completly differ from one country to another. In the case of Alison, they found out a some writings that were made to stay hidden, and service providers are in their right not to disclose the communications.

A google representative mentionned that “It’s crucial to strike a balance” between families and the user’s right to privac

Digital death is still a problem. A widow’s battle to access her husband’s Apple account

Leslie’s Digital Legacy

It is not a surprise to most when we hear that the life we are living today could end any minute. We have all come to expect death at some point. With this being said what we do in life defines us and what others will remember us by, but what all that we worked for could be taken away in the blink of an eye? This is the sad case for Leslie Harpold.

In the early 2000’s Leslie Harpold was an up and coming writer, graphic artists and editor. She was the total package when it came to freelance artists. Flooded with praise and respect Leslie was making a household name for herself in the online world. Then in 2006 the unimaginable happened. At the age of 40 Leslie had passed away leaving her family, friends, and clients in disarray.

With her life taken away and no way to come back Leslie had only her digital media left to carry on her digital legacy. Unfortunately for Leslie the story gets worse. Leslie was young and had never thought about death, she never thought about how she would be remembered and what to be left open to the public to view if she had passed. So on the horrific day that Leslie passed all of her digital legacy was automatically given to her parents. Maybe it was a coping mechanism, maybe they wanted something to not be seen, or maybe they just down right did not want to share their daughter is memory with the world. Regardless of the reason Leslie’s digital legacy was taken away.

Friends of Leslie had offered her family to take control of her websites with the clause that they would touch and alter anything. Just keep the website intact so others could experience the joy that Leslie had brought to the world. Unfortunately any sort of discussion with the family on this matter would go into a definite circle. They wanted no means of Leslie is past to be displayed. In the end no one could fight what the family wanted, they were automatically the ones who had control and not any of Leslie is friends.


Clear rules needed for managing digital afterlife

A poor man solution

The quick and easy solution is to have your password list stored on a DropBox account, in different password vaults. The vaults can be linked in an instruction file to specific beneficiaries. Each of these vaults will have a separate password, that your digital executor may not have. I do use KeePass for this, but there are also examples of using other software such as 1Password.

The DropBox account will be linked to your digital executor so that, in proper times, the executor can retrieve the password of the DropBox on a specific safe-deposit box, so that the executor send the vaults to the appropriate beneficiaries, with a reminder of the password. You can be creative, it should be something that you and the beneficiary have in common: the name of the first teacher, using a birthday, using the name of a common boss… You have plenty of options!

An advantage of this is that the key to your assets are stored on your side, and you’re not losing your control over them. Process to update your lists is simple: you just edit it on your computer and that’s already put in safety.

Clear rules needed for managing digital afterlife

Writing instructions to your executor

Chances will be that you won’t be here anymore to tell your executor what to do with each part of your estate — I guess. Remember, your executor will have no way of knowing how you feel unless you spell it out in advance, so you will have to write a document clearly stating what to do with each item.


Take the example of Facebook — no, I’m sure you have an account over there. In 2009, Facebook explained the reason behind creating a memorials for people who left. These memorialized accounts can no longer be found in Suggestions or found by non-confirmed friends, and are a place for friends to share memories in remembrance. Sensitive information are removed, and nobody will access the account anymore. That’s fine, but without preparation about what you’d love to remove or to keep, potential issues can arise. Moreover, you could decide of what you’d like to be remembered for : videos, some text if you used to write, and so on. That’s also a sensitive option to avoid your facebook ghost Liking pages or updating statuses, like some do.

Another thing to keep in mind is that, if you decide to keep resources online, you may have to engage financial assets in it as well. If you want your blog, portfolio or videos online, you’ll have to pay a service provider for it, or make sure that your executor will set up a mechanism to cover those costs. Free hosting solutions can be a solution, if you are not afraid of losing your legacy if their terms change.

It may sound stupid, but once again be sure that this executor will have an easy access to each piece of the puzzle : will, password lists, instructions. It’s also a good to idea to give power of attorney to your executor, to be sure he or she will have all the necessary support from the legal point of view.