A: What will happen to these online accounts after your death depends on the laws in your state, the types of accounts involved and the terms of service governing the accounts. An executor does not automatically gain access to the accounts unless the deceased person has made specific arrangements. And heirs often find that they don’t have clear authority to access or manage a family member’s accounts. But you can take steps to increase the likelihood that your digital footprint will be handled according to your wishes.
You’ll need to make a list of what you have, name someone to act on your behalf, and provide your designee with access and instructions. Start by creating an inventory of your digital assets, including all of your online accounts. As you create a list of the accounts and their passwords, note your wishes or instructions for any you would like handled in a specific way. For example, you may request that your social media accounts be deleted or that digital photos stored in the cloud be shared with specific people.
Problems may still arise. Passwords expire, people forget to update their lists, and many sites require two-factor authentication that could go to a cell phone or email address that is no longer accessible, says Sharon Hartung, author of Your Digital Undertaker. Or a website’s terms of service agreement may prohibit anyone other than the original user from accessing the account. Many sites delete accounts upon receiving notice that a user has died.
In recent years, most states have adopted the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act, which allows you to designate a legal representative to access your digital assets after death. You can provide that access through a will, power of attorney or trust.
A small but growing number of online services have started to offer users a way to allow access to their accounts after they die. Facebook, for example, allows users to have their accounts deleted upon death or to designate a digital heir with the right to manage portions of the account, which will be turned into a memorial page. Google will let you select up to 10 trusted contacts who can access your Gmail, photos and more if your account is inactive for several months.
(Kaitlin Pitsker is an associate editor at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine. Send your questions and comments to email@example.com. And for more on this and similar money topics, visit Kiplinger.com.)
Sound familiar? For many millennials, older relatives have spent a large percentage of their lives helping, teaching and supporting you. Now it’s time for millennials to teach and support your now digital relatives.
How many of your parents, grandparents and other relatives are now online and using technology? According to Pew Research Center, 73% of American adults ages 65 or older are internet users. That is up 14% from the year 2000, just a decade ago. To younger generations, the value of technology and the internet made them early adopters to integrating various technologies into their daily lives; it is clear that older Americans are now on board as well.
Millennials must help your older relatives understand the dark side of technology
With all things in life, there are pros and cons. Technology is no different. Growing up with technology, Millennials have an easier time understanding the negative sides. Identity theft, fraud and stolen financial information are just some examples of what can easily happen if the proper steps and precautions are not taken. Older generations need help understanding how they can easily fall victim to cyber crime, even after death. Have you ever found yourself saying one of the following to an older relative?
Do not click links in emails from people you do not know
Even more confusing, do not click links in emails from familiar sources that seem “off”; go to the websites directly
You must use a passcode for your phone
Do not use the same password for all your online accounts
What is the value of your digital information, assets and footprint?
In a survey conducted by McAfee, they found that 88% of consumers own multiple digital devices, with 62% owning three or more and 20% owning five or more.
More than half of consumers surveyed (51%) spend 15 hours or more on their digital devices. The study concluded that the global average worth of assets stored on our devices is over $35,000. The study was further expanded by Andrew Hill Investment Advisors, who state for Americans, the average financial worth of digital assets is over $55,000 per person.
These studies are interesting and encourage you to value your digital assets along with your physical property. While it is easy to define the value of your laptop, phone and other devices, the harder piece of this equation is how do you place a value on your irreplaceable items (such as photos or documents), or financial information that could be stolen?
Help your relatives protect and plan for their digital estate
Take a moment and think about all the financial, personal, sensitive or private information that your relatives may have on their devices:
Social Security numbers (for all family members, likely including yours)
Medical records (for all family members, likely including yours)
Private and personal data
Private location data
According to AARP, it can take six months for financial institutions, credit-reporting bureaus and the Social Security Administration to receive, share or register death records. Widely available funeral announcements create the perfect scenario for criminals to strike, and it makes grieving loved ones a prime target for identity theft and other types of financial and digital theft. It has become imperative that your older relatives start to plan properly for their digital death.
Did you know that according to AARP, close to 800,000 deceased individuals are targeted for identity theft annually? That’s almost 2,200 a day. With a name, address and birth date, criminals can purchase a Social Security number for as little as $10. Stealing the identity of the deceased is called ghosting, and you can learn more about it here.
Digital estate planning is about you, too
Digital estate planning is more than just protection from criminals targeting your deceased loved ones; it is also about organization. When a loved one passes, it is a difficult and emotional time for family members. The last thing you want to worry about is where to find important information such as a will, or safeguard family memories such as photos. When you take time to plan in advance using a central storage location such as an Info Vault, your relatives will enjoy peace of mind knowing that all their important information, documents, passwords, photos and other digital items are safe.
You will also benefit from your relatives planning for their digital estate. While grieving and dealing with their post-life matters, you will not have to scramble around looking for their password and other important information, during what is one of life’s most emotional and stressful times.
Talk to your relatives
The time is now to talk to your parents and other relatives about planning and protecting their digital lives. You never know when your time will be up, so take action today. Talk to your relatives about how easy and wide-spread end-of-life related crimes can be. In the same conversation, explain how they can organize both their traditional and digital estates at the same time using digital estate planning services. Taking proactive measures now will provide both you and your relatives with the peace-of-mind knowing that their important items will be safely transferred in an organized manner, making one the hardest times in life a little easier.
How Final Security can help
Final Security can help protect your relatives by providing them with the tools they need to properly plan their estate and control their digital information and assets upon death.
Final Security’s Info Vault is a place where loved ones can store their digital information:
Store usernames and passwords to any service (files and notes can be saved with each entry).
Store their photos: save a single, memorable photo or a collection to pass on.
Store your documents, such as a will, or a collection of information their beneficiaries will need.
Create an efficient, organized and central place for their beneficiary to find all their important information after their passing.
With Final Security’s Device Cleaning service, they can have that peace of mind that their registered devices will be remotely wiped upon the confirmation of their passing. Our service will ensure that their sensitive and private information will not be seen by anyone but their designated beneficiary. We will protect not only their legacy but provide protection to their family and friends by making sure their private information does not get into the wrong hands.
Social Media Cleaning
Social Clean is Final Security’s service that allows you to know that your online accounts do not live on the web forever. Not only does this service protect their legacy and information, it also protects family and friends. Bad actors are looking to capitalize on the window of time where your death may not be publicly known or officially recognized. In this window of time, your family and friends could fall victim to a scam that looks like it is coming from your account.
“It can take 6 months for someone to be officially recognized as deceased by the Social Security Administration…this makes grieving loved ones a prime target for identity theft,” explained Christopher W. Huziak, CEO & Founder of Final Security LLC.
Today Final Security, LLC launched an unprecedented service to protect users against identity theft and ease the burden of managing digital assets upon death. The personal data protection company helps users through the process of estate planning for their digital life. Final Security’s state-of-the-art artificial intelligence process determines a user’s living status and, upon death, transfers the user’s files to a designated beneficiary or cleans their devices and accounts.
The service includes:
Info Vault: Users can collect files, photos and account information in the encrypted Info Vault to be transferred to their designated beneficiary.
Device Cleaning: Registered devices will be wiped clean, ensuring the user passes on only the information they want to share.
Social Media Cleaning: Users can arrange to have their social media accounts deleted, securing their digital legacy.
Final Security’s service also protects users and their loved ones from identity theft during a time of grief. According to AARP, criminals collected a staggering $5.2 Billion from the IRS in 2011 by falsely filing tax returns of the deceased. Transferring critical account information and erasing devices limits the risk of identity theft.
“Criminals have an unfair advantage — it can take 6 months for someone to be officially recognized as deceased by financial institutions, credit bureaus and the Social Security Administration,” explained Christopher W. Huziak, CEO & Founder of Final Security LLC. “This is the perfect scenario for criminals to strike and makes grieving loved ones a prime target for identity theft and other types of financial and digital theft. It has become imperative that you plan properly for your digital death. Final Security’s services provide all the tools you need to protect yourself and those you love.”
Final Security’s protection plans start at $12.99/month. To learn more about and register with Final Security, visit: finalsecurity.co
About Final Security LLC Final Security is a personal data protection company that specializes in cleaning and transferring your digital information upon death. Services include device erasing, social media account deletion, and an information vault which allows your digital life to be given to a chosen delegate.
So much of our lives is online these days, but surprisingly few of us plan for what happens to our online accounts and assets when we are no longer around. Some of your Instagram followers may never notice that you’ve stopped posting vacation pictures, or stop to wonder why. But you have other online presences that can, and should be managed after your death, so that your loved ones can access assets and memories you’ve stored online. Here are five ways to manage your digital estate planning
Consider a Password Manager
Someone inheriting your house or car would need to inherit the keys as well. Someone inheriting access to your digital life will need your passwords. A password manager can make those digital “keys” easier to pass along. Services like 1Password allow you to store all your passwords for various sites with them so you don’t have to remember them. When you sign up for the service, you create an “emergency kit.”
The kit has, all in one place, the information that a person you choose would need to access your 1Password account. You may also store passwords for credit card sites, banking, and other information needed to access your financial accounts. Download a copy of your emergency kit to a USB drive or print out a copy and keep it in a secure place, perhaps in a safe with your estate planning documents, so that your personal representative can get to it soon after your death.
Other highly-recommended password managers to consider include Dashlane and Keeper.
Give Google a Heads Up
Google has a feature called “Inactive Account Manager.” If your account is inactive for a set period of time, the IAM hands over the reins to your account to a person you have designated.
The default period of inactivity is three months, but you can opt for a shorter or longer time before Google turns over control of your account. You will need to supply your phone number, if you haven’t already done so, as well as provide another contact email. If your account is inactive, Google will first try to reach you using these means before handing off your account to your designated person.
When you designate someone to manage your inactive Google account, you can select which Google services (like YouTube) you want them to be able to access, or grant blanket access to everything. You can also set up your account to send an autoreply to anyone who emails you after your account is declared inactive. Head to Google’s Inactive Account Manager page to begin.
Leave a Legacy on Facebook
If you’re like many people, you have either reconnected with long-lost neighbors, friends and family on Facebook, or you never lost touch with them in the first place because Facebook has always been a part of your life. Think about how much of your contact with other people, especially those far away, is on Facebook. You share everything from pictures of lunch at that new Ethiopian restaurant to news about the birth of a child or grandchild. Facebook is your journal, photo album, and coffee klatsch all in one.
Facebook also does things like suggest you as a friend to people you may know, and remind Facebook friends of your birthday. These things can be painful for your loved ones when you’re no longer alive to celebrate. This and other problems can be solved by designating a legacy contact.
Your designated legacy contact, who must be an existing Facebook friend, can memorialize your account after your death, leaving a slimmed-down profile online.
Your designated legacy contact, who must be an existing Facebook friend, can memorialize your account after your death, leaving a slimmed-down profile online. When an account is memorialized, the word “Remembering” will be shown on your profile next to your name. Your account will also be removed from public search accounts, you won’t be suggested as a friend, and reminders will not go out on your birthday. However, if privacy settings allow, friends can still post messages on your timeline, so your loved ones will know you are fondly remembered.
If you prefer, you can have your account deactivated after your death by selecting “request account deletion” under the “manage account” tab.
Help Your Loved Ones Do the Two-Step
If you have designated loved ones to manage your online accounts after your death, congratulations. You have made their lives a little easier by relieving the stress of having to figure out access to your digital life. Grief is hard enough without that frustration.
If you are wise enough to have done this, however, you were also probably savvy enough to set up two-factor authentication for many of your important accounts. If that’s the case, you will want to give the person managing your online life after your death access to your phone or other means of contact so they can get the needed code for the two-factor authentication. Otherwise, they are sure to be frustrated.
As a Back-Up, Back it Up
The steps above will take care of much of the management of your digital life, but it’s always advisable to save important work, photos, and files to an external hard drive that loved ones can have right at their fingertips.
We hope you won’t need these tips for many years (by which time we may well have new ones). But you will sleep a little better at night knowing you have done your digital estate planning as well as estate planning in real life.
[NOTE:I wrote the first version of this article in 2010. The article was one of the earliest practical articles on digital estate planning and, in its own way, was influential. It is also one of many of my articles that can no longer be found on the web because of publisher website issues. As part of my effort to combat that sad state of affairs, I’m trying to update and repost some of those articles on this blog. I call that effort #blogfirst. In this case, I recently updated it for use in CLE materials for my upcoming presentation on digital estate planning at the 59th Annual ICLE Probate & Estate Planning Institute in Michigan and decided to post in now. I’m quite fond of this article and many people have found it helpful. I hope you will too.]
Andy Olmsted was a rare individual, in no small part because he is one of the few who thought carefully about what would happen to his online presence when they die. A popular blogger, Olmsted wrote a post before he left for service in Iraq along with instructions for his survivors to post it to his blog in the event he was killed in action. Unfortunately, it had to be posted. I read the post on the day it appeared in 2008, and I re-read it when I prepared to write this article. It remains for me one of the most moving posts in the history of blogging (http://obsidianwings.blogs.com/obsidian_wings/2008/01/andy-olmsted.html).
The beautiful thing is that his family has kept that post available on the Internet to this day. The sad thing is that this permanence is becoming an all-to-rare exception.
We are gradually, and grudgingly, learning that our online presence can outlive our physical presence and possibly even take on a life of its own. As we begin to move more of our activities – financial, social, work, leisure, creative – onto the Internet, the questions about what happens to our online presence and how we best prepare to handle that have begun to grow in quantity and complexity.
As the Internet started to become popular, we realized that a person’s Internet presence could raise a few important issues in the event of death or incapacity. For, example, what would happen to an email account? Who could access emails? Were there online financial or other accounts?
In earlier days, our online presence was just a small part of our “digital estate.” We leave a wealth of information on our computers. Our “digital estates” have begun to raise a number of complex issues and have revealed new digital questions and new digital assets, such as cryptocurrencies.
At the root of many of these issues we find the question of passwords. In simplest terms, how can you get on to someone’s computer to do anything if you don’t have passwords?
Once you logged into computer, you might well confront a different set of passwords for email and other online accounts. In a relatively small number of cases a few years ago, someone might have a website or other Internet vehicles, like listservs or discussion groups. Issues might include deciding whether and how to notify audience and friends of a death, tracking down financial accounts, and determining how to shut down a website.
As difficult as those issues could be a few years ago, they can seem simple and trivial in comparison to the myriad of issues we see today, especially in the online world.
• Photos on Flickr, documents in Google Docs, videos on YouTube, social media and blog posts, comments and other data.
• Online bank and investment accounts, payment information, rewards accounts, airline, hotel and other accounts, online medical information, subscriptions of all kinds.
• A myriad of online shopping accounts that might hold credit card information, rewards, benefits, subscriptions and memberships, and many “web 2.0” services.
• Cryptocurrencies, blockchains, and new types of digital property.
It’s difficult to know where our survivors would start, other than that they would have the sense of being overwhelmed. Planning for digital assets is becoming part of good estate planning and succession planning.
Basic Planning Concepts.
Conceptually, the same principles apply to planning for our digital assets after our demise as do to our real-world assets. Yet, handling digital assets can quickly get quite complicated. Most of us keep important papers, necessary information, and valuable assets in safe places. These places are usually revealed to a few trusted people who we hope also survive us. On occasion, however, family members will be surprised to find unknown accounts, collections or even boxes or cash. However, it usually takes a simple conversation, a page or two of notes, and pointing loved ones to the file cabinet or box where the important stuff is kept to handle 90% of the issues. There are also a number of inexpensive notebooks available these days where you can collect, record, and preserve in one place all your account numbers, password
The same principles apply in the digital world as do in the real world, but making arrangements for digital assets can be an order of magnitude more difficult than making arrangements in the real world.
Take a moment to do a simple exercise. Can you quickly and easily find all the valuable documents and files on your computers? Or, as is likely, are they scattered among many folders, several computers, flash drives and backup CDs, DVDs, tapes, iTunes, and a number of online accounts and services? How easy will it be for someone to sit down at your computer and find everything they need, especially if it’s now a struggle for you (the only one who will actually understand your system of organization) to do that?
Add to that the simple fact that establishing a succession plan works against every recommendation for good security practices. Security experts want to you create strong passwords, use different ones for different accounts, and to change them frequently. How many times have you heard or read that you should never ever write down passwords and keep them in a place that a burglar or other bad actor can find easily?
Think about it. If you do a great job on security, you all but guarantee no one can get easy and timely access to your digital world when the time comes.
Here’s another thought experiment: what if you use a thumbprint scanner or other biometric device for access to your computer? What happens when you die? Enhanced security techniques like multi-factor authentication (you need a password and a security key fob or smartphone) will make access even harder than it is now. Also, many experts recommend using a password management program that generates random, strong, lengthy passwords automatically.
In addition, it is not a great idea for security reasons to create directories, folders or documents on your computer that are named “Passwords,” “Important Financial Stuff,” or “Account Information” in case someone breaks into your computer system or steals your computer.
Although you will occasionally read articles suggesting that you cover your digital assets explicitly in your will or trust or even create a unique document to cover your digital assets, the fact is that most of us do not get around to doing that. Our digital world and our digital assets change on a regular basis. Almost by definition, any document that we create will be out of date when the time comes to use it.
A Simple Five-step Plan to Manage Your Digital Estate.
While I doubt that any of us will be able to put together a foolproof and perfect plan for our digital assets and affairs, the fact is that most of leave our real-world assets and affairs in less than perfect order. However, we at least try to make things easier for our survivors who have to handle our real-world estate. The best we can do is to put things in order as well as we can, pick the right people to handle them, and leave reasonably clear instructions. I suggest that we want to try to do the same things for our digital estates.
Toward that end, I want to recommend a very simple five-step plan that you can start on today and then revisit from time to time. In most cases, these steps have real world analogies and I encourage you to think in those terms. Build on what you know.
Step 1. Inventory Your Digital Assets. I spent a large part of my early legal career as an estate planning lawyer. In the case of either death or incapacity, the first important step is to track down and identify all of the assets, liabilities and other concerns that must be addressed. Once an inventory is created, you can move forward with marshaling and collecting assets, identifying outstanding liabilities and paying them in a timely fashion, and dealing with outstanding issues, such as turning off utilities, canceling credit cards, arranging for storage or disposal, and the like.
In the real world, your family and your designated successors (personal representative of your estate, trustee of your trust, or attorney-in-fact under a durable power of attorney) will be aided immensely by any list of assets and liabilities that you can prepare for them and leave in a place that is easy for them to obtain.
In your digital world, you also want to help your successors by creating an inventory. The more detailed and accurate the better, of course, but even a small start can be of help.
Here are some of the things I’d suggest that you inventory:
1. Hardware. Inventorying your hardware and the data contained in each item seems like an easier project that it actually will be. I suggest that you create a list of your hardware with a summary overview of what data is on it. Creating the inventory is likely to be an eye-opener for you. You are likely to find that you have important information not only on the computer system you use every day, but also on many other computers. Many of us have at least one laptop and one or more desktop computers, as well as smartphones and tablet devices, perhaps all syncing to “cloud” storage on the Internet. Many people keep copies of vital information on their work computers. Where do you back up information? You might have many USB flash drives, USB hard drives, backup CDs or DVDs. There might be important pictures still on digital cameras and even information on iPods, smartphones, tablets and other devices.
2. Software. Do you use Quicken or another financial program? What income tax preparation programs do you use? Do you create spreadsheets or Word documents with important financial information? If you blog or use social media, are there authoring programs that someone would need to use to post news to your blog, Twitter or other social media accounts?
3. File Structures. Your inventory should sketch out the main folders and places where you keep personal, financial and client files and documents. For someone like me, I also have audio and video of presentations and podcasts that I’d want someone to be able to locate and deal with. You might have important collections of family photos or videos or work in progress.
4. Online Presence. Create a list of your website(s), blog(s), Facebook and other social media accounts, online backup sites, online sites where you store documents, photos or other files, and listservs, groups or other sites you belong to. The use of social media has exploded in the past few years. Facebook alone has more than a billion users.
5. Online Accounts. Amazon and other shopping sites make it easy for you to create accounts and include credit card information. You might also have online access to bank and investment accounts. In fact, in many cases, you might no longer be receiving paper statements for accounts. If you don’t identify these accounts, it will be difficult for your successors to even know that they exist because there simply will be no paper trail. Also, make a list of all the email accounts you have and use. Most of us have several email accounts these days.
6. Work Information. Lawyers might have access to client sites, collaboration sites, online document repositories or other information that no one else knows about. Similarly, they might have access to software, online tools or online databases that someone taking over their work will need to have. In some firms, a lawyer might have important network passwords, backup media or other digital assets the existence or value of which is not realized until they are gone.
At this point, you really want to gather and collect as much information as you can for your inventory. You can work on organizing and prioritizing it later.
Step 2. Identify Appropriate Help. In our estate plans, we typically name a surviving spouse or adult child, especially one with financial savvy, as a personal representative or trustee. That person, however, might well be the worst possible choice for dealing with our digital assets, especially if they are not computer savvy. We also recommend appropriate lawyers, accountants and financial planners to assist our survivors with our financial affairs after our deaths.
You will want to give serious thought to who should be looking into your digital assets on your demise and give thought to naming them in an official capacity in some cases or clearly identifying as “go to” people in other cases. Are there ways you can make things easier for your survivors?
Here’s a simple exercise to help you. Imagine that you have died or are incapacitated. Who do you want to turn on your computer to find out and deal with what’s there? Let them know that and let others know that. If the IT person in your office could assist your surviving spouse, then make it clear that she should be engaged to help. A child you might not want making financial decisions might be just the one you want going through your digital world.
I also suggest talking to your estate planning lawyer to see if dealing with your computers and digital assets is something he or she has expertise with.
Step 3. Provide for Access. While we are all cautioned never to write down passwords and PIN numbers, the simple fact is that, if we do not do that and keep them in a safe place where they can be found at an appropriate time, no one will be able to access our computers and accounts. This not only can cause delay, frustration and inconvenience, but it can mean today that our best friends scattered around the country and world might well find out about our demise weeks after a funeral that they would have undoubtedly wanted to attend.
Unfortunately, as I mentioned above, good security means that your passwords are a moving target because you should be changing them on a regular basis. I still think it’s useful to keep a list of passwords in a safe deposit box or other safe place that someone knows about. My old law firm routinely keeps important personal documents of its clients in a vault. Keeping a document with your passwords and other online account information with the other important documents will help your survivors. Another approach might be to tell your lawyer where the password list is kept and let them tell your survivors at the appropriate time so that it can be located. If you use password management software (and everyone should), you will want to let people know and make sure that the password for that program (which is necessary to get the passwords for other accounts) can be located.
Keep in mind that security continues to evolve. Many people use thumb prints or facial recognition instead a password, especially on smartphones. The current state-of-the-art in security – multi-factor authentication – often requires that you have both a password and a device (two factors), such as a smartphone to which a code can be sent for use. In other cases, you might need to know answers to personal security questions. Biometric methods raise their own sets of issues.
Step 4. Leave Instructions. I started with the story of Andy Olmsted because it is a perfect example of someone who knew what he wanted to happen and gave instructions for that to happen. Most of us will not reach a point where we will sit down and provide detailed instructions unless we face what I used to call when I did estate planning a “focusing event” – both spouses flying on the same plane, going into combat, terminal illness or the like.
There are a number of areas where your survivors would appreciate instructions:
• Notifications. Many of us now have Facebook “friends,” LinkedIn “connections,” Twitter “followers,” and others we communicate with on a regular basis. If we have a blog or website, we might have people who read our words or visit our sites on a regular basis. If we want those people notified, we need not only to make our wishes clear, but to provide access to the tools and give instructions so that can happen. Think about Andy Olmsted’s example. He wrote the post, but he had to let someone know that it existed, how to access his blog, how to post it to his blog, and how someone should respond to the comments the post would receive. There are instances now of survivors who continue to update Facebook accounts and provide other information online after someone dies.
• Continuing or Closing Sites. In my case, I have a website that’s been around for almost twenty years and a blog with more than ten years of posts. I’m not sure that I really want that to disappear. It would still be a valuable resource if I were gone. If you want a site to continue, you will want to give instructions as to how that might occur (e.g., preserve what’s there or perhaps have someone take it over and continue it). Even for sites or accounts that you want closed, you might want to be sure that a copy is made and kept, and that pictures, audio or video are saved. Many people have several active social media accounts that could be used to notify friends and provide funeral and other information.
• Realizing Value. Let’s face it, none of us are likely to realize the post-death financial revenues of Graceland and the Elvis Presley estate. However, simply shutting down sites might cut off potential revenue streams from e-books or other revenue-producing items. In the case of popular blogs, photography sites or online videos, your estate might be able to realize income from licensing, creating a book or taking other steps to “monetize” content. In some cases, you might have already started some of those projects.
• “Do Not Delete” Items. People now routinely digitize all kinds of important document, photos and video. For example, you might have scanned historical family pictures or family videos, or have a folder with the novel or screenplay you’ve been working on. If you intend that they be passed on, make sure that they are identified and not lost when a hard drive is deleted.
• “Bequeathed” Information. As mentioned above, you might be keeping family, business or other information that should be made available to specific people or even donated to a university or other archive. Documents containing instructions about collections, disposing of property, articles or stories to be published, and even personal guidance to family members need to be maintained in a way they can be located and made available to others. Consider again Andy Olmsted’s approach.
Step 5. Give Appropriate Authority. For some of us, and this might become more the case as time goes on, it makes sense to designate specific knowledgeable people and provide them with the appropriate authority to manage our digital assets. It might make sense to designate co-attorneys-in-fact, so-executors, or co-Trustees where one is specifically tasked with taking the responsibility for our digital assets and affairs. Finding estate planning lawyers who are experienced and knowledgeable in “digital estates” will be essential in certain cases. In addition, you might look into ways that your online accounts might permit you to designate others to act on your behalf or get added to your accounts. Especially in the cases of people who are not married or in a state where domestic partnerships would help, finding ways to give exactly the people you want to manage your digital affairs will be very important. I expect to see this area continuing to evolve, with many areas of uncertainty. Note that in many states, the Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act has been implemented in some form to help deal with digital access issues.
Tips for Providing Assistance after the Death of Another.
It’s also possible that either as a survivor or as a lawyer, you might find yourself in a position where you need to handle someone’s digital affairs. I have a few tips.
• Find knowledgeable technical and legal help.
• In the case of a death, try to get to contact lists, email accounts and social media accounts to notify friends who the deceased would want to be notified.
• Change all passwords as soon as possible. Cybersecurity might be even more important after someone has died than while they are alive.
• Try to understand the totality of the person’s online presence and identify some of the people that interact with most for assistance, especially in the social media platforms.
• Do not start closing accounts, shutting down hosting and email or taking other drastic steps until you have a good sense of what is out there and what you are ultimately going to do with it. Keeping a website up for a year or more will not be expensive. Shutting it down too early and losing valuable data could be quite expensive.
• Be slow to delete, but when you delete or dispose of computers and drives, delete them in accordance with forensic standards so data cannot be retrieved from them by others.
• Spend $100 on an external USB hard drive and make a copy of all hard drives, flash drives and other data and keep them in one safe place. Once you start to go through the data, you can keep another drive with the “good stuff.”
• Make copies of websites and other online accounts.
• Locate all the financial information and client records as soon as possible and aggregate and isolate them.
• Remove credit card information from shopping accounts.
• Determine whether there is ownership of cryptocurrency, where it is kept (in some cases, could be on a USB drive on a keychain – seriously, I’ve met people who do that), and whether there is a way to access it and transfer it.
• Err on the side of keeping email, documents and photographs for family members.
Start Thinking About Your Digital Estate Plan Today.
The issues of what death means in the digital world has been with us for many years. It really started to come to public attention with the Iraq war, especially in terms of access/ownership of email accounts and getting to online banking and other accounts by survivors of soldiers killed in action. Today, our lifetime digital presence has grown exponentially and the issues involved in handling our digital assets and affairs have also grown dramatically. If you take time to work on the five-step plan suggest by this article, ideally in connection with updating your estate plan, you’ll help make things easier for your survivors and improve that the chance that your wishes are followed. Read Olmsted’s blog post, dry your eyes, and start on your plan today.
An earlier edited version of this article appeared in the March 2010 issue of the Law Practice Today as “Estate Planning for Your Digital Assets.” It is been significantly updated in this version, but most of the basic principles have not changed during that time.
[Originally posted on DennisKennedy.Blog (https://www.denniskennedy.com/blog/)]
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