How to include both physical and digital assets in your estate plan From purchasing goods with a PayPal account to sharing family pictures through a cloud-based photo album, online activities have become increasingly engrained in our daily lives. But have you considered that each of these actions involves a […]
Legal Ease logo With the advancements of technology, we as a society spend more and more time on the internet. Much of our daily lives are spent reviewing online financial accounts, online shopping, taking and saving pictures or videos, and listening to music. The internet and cellphone applications have […]
When it comes to, wills, power of attorney and all that goes into crafting your estate plan, you should include a discussion about digital assets with your attorney.
Our lives today are primarily conducted online – making digital assets part of our daily lives. Yet many of us fail to recognize that the value of digital assets are as important as tangible assets. McAffee, in 2014, conducted research that disclosed digital devices hold an estimated value of $35,000. Topping the list of stored items are personal memories, photos, and videos which was estimated at over $17,000.
As we store an increasing amount of assets and accounts online, their emotional and financial value increases. If you have not included digital asset information along with your estate planning documents, your beneficiaries may not be able to access your accounts, particularly if they do not have passwords and related information. Additionally, problems arise with social media accounts that are covered by TOS (terms of service) agreements which prohibit an accountholder from disclosing information to third parties, or allowing them to access your account, and from transferring the account. Laws governing digital accounts vary state-by-state and all too often beneficiaries are locked out of their loved ones’ social media and other accounts.
What is a Digital Asset?
Digital asset refers to any content a person owns in digital form i.e., anything that you access online, your computer, a mobile device, or that is stored in the cloud. The list of digital assets is extensive and tends to fall into several categories including:
- Passwords: A strong password can secure the information on your computers,
high-tech items and shopping accounts; unfortunately, people are not as careful in selecting passwords making it easy for hackers to access accounts. Google provides many ideas on how to choose hard-to-hack passwords
- Social media accounts: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram etc., most of which have exclusive access via passwords and relevant security words. They are subject to terms of service contracts established by social media outlets – therein lies the issue when families try to access a deceased loved one’s account.
- Email accounts
- Businesses: Websites, domain name/s, blogs, intellectual property, all data stored digitally etc.
- Financial: Bank accounts, tax documents, investment accounts, credit cards, virtual currencies, savings bonds.
- Personal: Electronically stored photo albums, music, movie collections, video games, websites, mobile devices, frequent flyer miles, medical records, shopping sites such as Amazon, EBay, Wayfair, food sites.
Estate Planning and Digital Assets
When it comes to estate planning we realize that protection of our homes, loved ones, and financial assets are critical. However, it is equally important to protect the legacy of your digital assets as well. Pointers for safeguarding your digital assets include:
- Prepare an inventory of all your digital assets with a description of each along with your user name, password and related security information. Plan to update the inventory each time you make a change.
- Store the inventory either with your estate planning documents or in a place that it can be accessed by your fiduciary (power of attorney, personal representative (executor), etc.).
- Authorize your decision makers (your agent(s) named in your durable power of attorney, in the event of a lifetime illness or disability, and your personal representative (executor) named in your will to act for your estate upon your death) with the appropriate powers to access and deal with digital assets in the event of lifetime disability or death. Supplement those powers with private instructions, if applicable, as to how you more specifically wish your digital assets to be handled. For instance you may have certain personal accounts that you don’t ever want opened; be specific.
- Be aware. Familiarize yourself with terms of service agreements associated with your social media accounts. Some platforms have incorporated ways of handling a deceased’s account, others have not addressed this issue at all.
The importance of including digital assets in your estate plan cannot be overstated as Internet usage becomes more pervasive and as online accounts become even more valuable. Be sure to discuss this topic with an estate planning attorney… soon.
As Web-based engagement for business and personal reasons becomes more prevalent, the risk for a breach to your privacy and data security increases. Not a month goes by without us hearing about a privacy breach compromising people’s financial identity, and the Federal Trade Commission estimates that at least 11 million people are the victims of identity theft every single year. More and more, identity theft is happening in a virtual realm as a result of careless personal habits as it relates to data security. Every minute of the day, thousands of Americans are exposed to phishing, spyware, malware, and other types of malicious Internet activity aimed at stealing their identity to use mainly for financial fraud. It just takes one moment of carelessness to place you or your loved ones in a vulnerable position that may take years and many hours of hard work to correct.
Data security crimes are so common and so disruptive that many companies offer insurance to protect individuals from the aftermath of having their identity or other important documents stolen digitally. Protecting your online data goes beyond protecting your identity. Many people store a myriad of personal documents on the cloud and maintain ongoing conversations via text or email that may contain information that should be kept private. If you are concerned about online data safety, then take into account the following best practices to help you keep your personal and professional data from falling into the wrong hands.
According to David Perera, a journalist focused on tech and trends, much of what we are told about password security is difficult to implement and not necessarily aligned with the way we operate in our daily lives. For most of us, having a different password for each account is unrealistic, given that the average person interacts with over 100 password-secured websites. It absolutely makes sense, in theory, to have complex passwords with no association with our names, addresses, or commonly known personal information. We should also refrain from the most common and most damaging mistake of using standard passwords such as “123456” and “password.” (Take a look at this article on CBS, highlighting the 25 most popular passwords for 2013.) But how can you keep track of so many passwords while relying on memory and making sure your passwords are secure? A great alternative is to think about passwords in tiers. That is, the security level needed for each website or environment determines the type of password you are likely to use. On sensitive environments such as bank accounts or trading accounts, you may want to go all the way, and refrain from patterns or reusing common words or passwords. As for other less important websites that require a password, you can tier it by resorting to passwords that are still complex and unique, and make use of special characters that you are still able to recall.
Mobile-device use is on the rise, and with it comes the increased risk of having a data-security breach. When it comes to your mobile devices, caution and mindfulness are essential to keep your personal information safe. Let’s start with the basics. More than 50 percent of data-connected cell phone users don’t use a password on their device, making it extremely vulnerable should the device be lost or stolen. Another habit that puts your personal data at risk is having your cell phone or mobile device set to auto-connect when it finds an open wireless network. Finally, if you are engaging with a variety of websites and apps, then it is very important that you verify the authenticity of a website and make sure the portal is secure (the URL should read https instead of http). When downloading apps, carefully review the data each app wishes to have permissions for. Many apps are highly intrusive of your privacy, asking for ongoing access to all manner of communications taking place from your device, and even taking the liberty to post on your behalf on many social platforms, such as Facebook.
Free WiFi Could Prove Costly
If you are constantly on the road or in a remote office (some call it Starbucks), then you need to always be on the alert and make careful decisions when logging into networks outside your home or office. Hot spots are well known sources of cybercrime. There are several ways hackers can steal your information from a hot spot, from installing a free rogue hot spot served directly from their computer where they have full access and visibility to all your data, to using special software to see all your activity, even when you are in a “trusted” public Wi-Fi spot. If you are using a hot spot for work, then always use a layer of encryption by using a VPN. In general, public hot spots provided by companies such as AT&T are not encrypted, putting all your communications at risk.
Two-Factor Password Authentication Matters
With thousands of passwords being compromised every day by hackers and cybercriminals stealing, cracking, phishing, guessing, buying, keylogging, sniffing, and capturing, not having two-factor authentication with your most sensitive accounts is literally a crime against yourself. Two-factor authentication combines something you know with something you have, disarming anybody that attempts to access your information by having only your password but not your authentication device. Two-factor authentication can be managed by a FOB or digital token that provides the user a one-time password, or via a message sent to a mobile device. Virtual Private Network access, personal and company emails and bank accounts, as well as access to your mobile computer can benefit greatly from two-factor authentication. Many free email providers, such as Gmail, already provide free two-factor authentication via your mobile. If you have not yet activated yours, then don’t delay. Data breaches where identity is compromised ends up costing Americans an average of $365 to resolve.
Consider a Digital Safe
With so many passwords to keep, which are likely to constantly change, having a means of centralization of your most important passwords and documents is no longer a nice- to-have. Data access should not be just secure; it should also be transferable to those you trust the most when you are unable to access it, due to illness or after you pass away. A well-designed digital safe gives you the convenience of centralization, the peace of mind of transferability, and the confidence that all the documents that really matter are secured in a cloud-based environment where they are unlikely to he hacked or lost due to device failure.