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

Designated Beneficiaries – 201

After having set up a complete digital will, and chosen an executor, you can set another level of security to your setup, it’s by including designated beneficiaries.

What are they? Check out the for-dummies, but what you need to know is that you communicate the details of beneficiaries to the institutions you want to warn (banks for example?) so that they will automatically transfer ownership of your assets to a designated beneficiary upon reception of proof of death.

Digital planning
Digital planning

Why are they important? Conflicts. If information between your will and the institution differ, the bank will prevail. It means your will can not be sufficient to ensure the proper transfer of ownership of funds in all the cases.. you catch my drift.

 

Who will get your iTunes when you die?

A shift in legacies

The so called GenY has been growing in a different age than their parents. The digital realm has taken over some aspects in everyday life, and that’s something we will have to live with.

We previously  had photo albums, scrapbooks, handwritten journals and letters, pieces of ribbon and shoeboxes to rule them all. If you wanted to get back in time, you just had to open these shoeboxes, carefully hidden in the basement or stored in the closet behind a pile of blankets.

Today, we do have dvd of photos, social media accounts, Facebook statuses and emails ; even the diplomas you are getting from your online courses are PDFs, not pieces of paper framed and proudly displayed behind your desk.  Cyberspace is getting a hold on these precious memories. And that may be an issue in terms of memories and privacy.

Most of our online accounts are locked behind passwords, and without proper guidance, memories may arise once again when you would have liked them to disappear, or those precious memories, photos or videos that you had with a love one may be deleted from cyberspace. That’s why you should take action right now, read more on the howtos, and prepare a list of your legacy, with proper instructions and beneficiaries !

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

Prepare a will executor

Simple: choose a fiduciary and give him, her or them the proper power of attorney, so that they can manage your belongings.

The choice of a will executor for your digital assets, or your “digital executor”, is a critical step in the planning.  It can be an executor different from your regular will, or someone who is not in charge of your offline estate. Actually, you’d want to select someone who is very comfortable with technology, to be sure that this person will execute your orders and not make any blunder. Apart from this, it could be a good idea to find someone who is geeky enough to understand what you want, and to apply it. Finally, don’t choose someone who is too close from you. If you need to delete some materials, you don’t want your executor to fail on this because it reminds him or her too much of you.

The person in charge may or may not be aware of your choice, you can arrange the name on your will — but the key and lock to the assets will have to be in a separate list, to be sure you can update it regularly, when changing your passwords. And if you open an account for another service? That’s going to be the same. Just open your lists, add the account, save the file and voila!

“If you haven’t made arrangements in advance, those assets are going to pass to your next of kin. Maybe that’s not what you want—maybe you want to spare the spouse the embarrassment or the pain of it to keep your legacy intact.”

Another advantage of selecting only an executor and to have a separate list will enable you not only to manage your accounts, but you will be able to manage the beneficiaries. An access can be revoked only by changing the password of a file, and saving you the trouble of a trip in the attorney’s office.

“If you have an estate-plan document book, devote one page of it to this. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy,” Ms. Hays says. “If you want [an account] to be ongoing or serve as a memorial, you need to make that known to the person you ask to take care of this. Otherwise, they’ll probably just shut it down.”.

A digital executor can be used to prevent any issue around your death. If you own an online store, like an eBay account, an unscrupulous competitor could use your obituary to make your different accounts closed. Emails could be accessed by anyone smart enough, providing a proof of your death.


Finally, a good thing to do is to integrate the name of this digital executor into your “regular” will — to avoid any potential contestation.

Clear rules needed for managing digital afterlife

Update a password list

Why would it be important to be prepared to give away your accounts information? Different emails providers have different policies. Google allows your next of kin to access your correspondence if they produce a proof of death ; Hotmail does the same, and asks the next of kin to show they have power of attorney. YahooMail.. simply erases your mail history.

Hence, it may be easier for everyone to get access to your mails and execute your will concerning the future of these assets.

Along with the usernames, passwords and emails potentially linked to the accounts, be also prepared to write down the security questions. Your loved ones may be or may not be the one knowing ALL of the details contained in the security questions, leading to an easy recovery of the accounts.

However, do not hesitate to segregate your different passwords in separate, password protected, lists, depending on the beneficiary of your goods. You can then store the different lists on a common storage medium (online storage, physical medium, …) and to limit the access to this resource only to your executor. It’s the same as putting different boxes with different locks for different beneficiaries, waiting in a global safe which is only accessible by you and your executor, but where your executor does not own the key to individual boxes.