Sharon Hartung kindly provided me with a digital advanced reader copy of her most recent book: ‘ DIGITAL EXECUTOR. Unraveling the New Path for Estate Planning’. You may recall my review of Sharon’s first book on the subject, ‘YOUR DIGITAL UNDERTAKER: Exploring Death in the Digital Age in Canada’. […]
- Your rights of purchase after you die
- Make a list of digital assets
- Who gets what? Assigning digital assets
- Name a Digital Executor
- Estate Planning for the Future
The world is changing … fast.
At the time of writing this I am 37. I got my first mobile phone when I was 17, 20 years ago! My first computer was a Sinclair Spectrum and I played games on it. In fact, computers were for playing games on as far as I was concerned until at least 1997. I had IT (Information Technology) lessons in school but didn’t pay much attention. It was mostly graphs, flowcharts and spreadsheets, boring.
The point I am making is that up until the age of 16 or so I never considered using a computer for anything other than games. These days, obviously you can still do that BUT … you can also do so much more! My job wouldn’t exist without one, or much of my leisure time. Films, TV Series, Books and yes … still games are all things that I experience online. They are purchased to “own” and are all stored in formats that can’t be held.
There lies what is about to be a massive issue when it comes to Estate Planning and it is a problem that few have thought about.
Digital Assets: A new addition to the Last Will and Testament
When you mention estate planning to someone and ask them to define it, apart from a small groan they may audibly mention Wills, money, houses and inheritance tax. Stocks, bonds and guardians may get a mention too. Although important … nothing new or out of the ordinary. The concern is when it comes to the items we have spent money on that you can’t hold. You can’t pass it over in person and you certainly can’t leave it to someone by mentioning the item and location.
We spend money on things these days that are in the cloud, on a hard drive or within an account with security measures. We have services taking money from our bank accounts monthly or yearly, that in the event of our death, would be really difficult to close without being able to log into the account. It may not sound like too much of a problem and not worth worrying about.
You should however as it is yet another, albeit newer part of the probate process that can and will give your loved ones a stressful time once you are gone.
Games, Films, apps, subscriptions and more have all been paid for and belong to you. The thing is … how are they easily cancelled and are you able to transfer any of them onto your loved ones when you die?
Online Purchases of the young and old
Today’s older generation are becoming more and more tech savvy and as such are embracing computers, tablets, smart phones and more.
In doing so they may have set up accounts with the likes of Google, iTunes, Facebook, Twitter and Spotify to name but a few. Young or old, you may have purchased games from the Xbox Marketplace or films from Apple TV service or Sky. Do these disappear from your accounts on death or are they an asset that you own and can pass to someone else? It is definitely something that you should look into.
Another big question is, what happens to social media accounts when we die?
Do bear in mind though .. it is not just the older generation that need to take heed. We do not know the date of our death and just because someone is 60 doesn’t mean they will die before someone who is 40.
For this reason I am taking the time to explain the importance of embracing your digital footprint and purchases and to make the process of closing things down easier for your loved ones. Also, where you are able, to allow the digital items to be passed onwards after you are gone.
Aside from online purchases and services we also need to take responsibility for our social media accounts. Mainly to ensure that they don’t upset our family members in future.
Many services take a monthly fee from you in order to continue your access. Setting them up is as easy as putting in your email address and Paypal information. Closing can be just as easy, click the cancel button under profile.
What if the person doing it isn’t you and doesn’t have your profile information though?
In this circumstance the ease of online accounts goes out of the window. Some services will require proof of death and others will suggest it is easy when it may be far from the case. Take Netflix as an example, it works as I have described. Want to cancel? Head to the account section from a computer and click on “Cancel Membership”.
Closing these accounts after your death when others are unable to log in though is not so easy. One would think that Netflix hasn’t really thought about it as a search in their help centre shows up empty. A google search though found an article from a lady in dire need of help. She tried to cancel the account, got told it was cancelled, and then they kept taking payments!
Messages from beyond the grave
The same issues arise with social media accounts. Which ones do you have?
Would you want them closed after you die? What harm could come from it?
Let’s use Facebook as an example. Just for now let’s say we are friends and that you have shuffled off this mortal coil. You are gone, I return from your funeral, open my phone and see a post from you. I drop phone, screen cracks … it’s all your fault.
I realise I am making light of the situation and that is intentional. It would seriously freak me out!
Facebook business pages allow for you to schedule posts days or months into the future. If you use a third party solution such as Hootsuite … you can do the same thing with your personal posts. You could be long gone and yet seemingly from beyond the grave you are trying to talk to your facebook followers.
It has happened and it will continue to happen unless we take the appropriate steps to ensure that social media account login credentials are available to executors.
In the case of Facebook, I could have informed them that you had died. It would have taken immediate family to report your passing before Facebook would do anything about it though. There are two options, memorialising your account or asking for account cancellation. Facebook states that they would never openly give the login details to anyone whether you are alive or dead and it is their policy to memorialise the account. This allows for the account to stay open and for people to be able to use it to gather and share memories.
Is that what you would have wanted though? Account removal may be considered a preferred option. After you have gone, this all takes time and potential upset for friends and family that they most likely could do without.
Even if you haven’t scheduled posts you would still appear in searches and available for tagging in photos. Personally, I would find that creepy and would want to protect the people I care about from the upset.
Providing your social media log in details on death would ensure that your accounts could be closed quickly if that were your choice as per your last wishes. If you made no such specification, at least it would be easier for your loved ones to make the decision.
The problem is only multiplied when we look at the fact that we may have Twitter, Google+, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Tumblr, Flickr, Vine, Digg …. I could go on.
Your rights of purchase after you die
Entertainment services like Sky, Apple TV and other satellite TV services allow for you to buy films and series to download to your hard drive. Do you own these films indefinitely though?
Searching online turns up few results for the main reason that I believe the average person hasn’t really thought about it yet. In fact the companies are making it difficult to find this information out too. Looking into the help and support portals provided by the likes of Netflix and Sky, show me that they don’t believe it is a big deal as yet. It has certainly got me thinking about what I spend my money on.
How much money might we have pumped into our film or music collection over a lifetime though?
If it were DVDs or CDs I would leave them to my partner, sister or friend. When it’s all online though and associated with an account that I have sole ownership of … what happens then?
In order to find this out, it would mean direct contact or potentially looking into the terms and conditions of service or purchase.
I emailed Sky and asked … what happens in the event of my death?
The response I received back was short and to the point …
“I wish to inform you that your account will be changed to deceased status and you will not be able to gift it to your friends or your family.”
Although pretty vague and not really specific to the films and series that were bought to keep, maybe I am to actually take it at face value. If I die, my purchases cease to be.
I emailed back and mentioned that this is concerning news. That we are all spending money on items that are only good for the period of our lifetime whereas previously they were for the length of the CD/DVDs lifetime.
The response I received then was from a manager who stated:
“With any Buy & Keep purchases these will be available no matter what, if for instance your Sky TV account was to close, you will still be able to view all your Buy & Keep purchase via www.skystore.com .
These can also be accessed by friends and family as long as they know your username/email and password in order to access www.skystore.com , if they do know these details then by all means they will be able to view the purchases you have made.”
This would suggest that your account is never closed and that they allow other people to access a deceased persons account. It doesn’t seem ideal and could potentially be upsetting.
iTunes, Amazon, your satellite or cable service all offer the opportunity to buy music, film and TV online as a digital entity. In order to properly understand your rights of purchase for digital items you would need to delve into their Terms and Conditions or flat out ask and potentially get the kind of response I have received.
Although I looked into a couple of examples for you, that isn’t really the purpose of this blog. Now that we have some scale and idea of consequence the big question is … how do we make sure that we look after our family, pass down what we are able to and generally allow for a smoother transition. We would be gone, who cares right? I think I would.
Make a list of digital assets
Simple, although potentially time consuming.
I don’t just mean online accounts here but also any and all technological assets that you have. Hard drives, computers, phones, tablets … even that old Psion Organiser you have (could be worth a bit of money these days!).
Unless you have an obscure collection, the hardware side of things may not take that long, It’s the online accounts and their access details. Accounts including Social Media, Shopping, email, photo and video sharing, cloud storage, banking, gambling, websites and blogs should all be listed.
Now you have a choice in my opinion. I have seen a fair few articles suggesting that you write down usernames and passwords for all accounts. As I type this I am well aware that the advice may well go against the terms and conditions of the services in question. As always it is totally your decision to take heed but there is no doubt that doing as suggested would make things a lot easier for your family.
* Keep a complete list of all accounts including passwords to allow access after you are gone. This may not be the best course of action as passwords change all the time with most services suggesting you do it multiple times a year. Keeping a file updated so often would become annoying.
* Give one person access to everything during your lifetime, although this isn’t ideal and may feel like an invasion of privacy.
* There are online resources that offer multiple options to pass your differing accounts to differing people. Entrustet or Legacy Locker, allow you to designate access to differing people. You may not want all of your emails read by your mother but you may trust a friend to delete the emails and account without reading it. You may have a Picasa account that you would like your family to have access to and a dropbox account that needs to be made available to your work colleagues. All of this can be organised though the multiple online services available. A potential problem here would be the companies in question not surviving. You may have paid them to allow for the service only to have them go bust making the process void.
* My suggestion and perhaps a better option all round, would be to make sure that all accounts are set up to the same email account. You would still write the list but without the passwords. Then just provide the username and password for that email address either in your Will or beforehand. Having an email address just for services could be prudent as then your personal emails wouldn’t be accessible to someone else. When you die, your Executor can go and reset your passwords for the accounts from that email address. If you change your password to this account you only have to update one. You may also want to add the executors email address as a recovery address so if they are locked out … they can still get in.
The only extra accounts that this may not work with would be banking accounts but as the information isn’t going to be released until they have seen your Will anyway, you may deem the log in information for these to be safe written in or attached to your Will.
Who gets what? Assigning digital assets
Depending on what you have through hardware to software and online accounts, you may wish for different people to have access as mentioned above.
You may want some things saved, passed along or deleted. While your wishes may conflict with the service providers terms and conditions, your Executor will find it useful information to know what you would have wanted.
Some digital assets may have monetary value or have funds associated with them like PayPal or Bitcoin. If you are anything like me, you could have accounts with stock image galleries or web asset portals that have outstanding credits available. Rather than let them expire or go unused you may want to give someone else the opportunity to use them.
One of your revenue streams could be an online store. Does that stop and shut up shop because you are gone or would you want to pass the helm to a trusted friend or co-worker?
Name a Digital Executor
The person who deals with your physical estate may not be the person you want to deal with your digital assets. A good example of this would be that I personally trust my father to deal with the physical estate but asking him to do anything with a computer would be asking more than his abilities allow.
A wish to have differing Executors for your physical and digital affairs is currently unlikely to be legal as the law states that an Executor has the duty/ability to wrap up all of your estate. A digital Executor is not an enforceable request and as such not legally binding but you may decide to name two people as Executor. They would be jointly responsible but of the understanding that they deal with their assigned and requested duties.
Store the information somewhere accessible but secure
This would be similar advice to what we would suggest for your Will and it would make sense to keep them both in the same place.
* Tell one or two trusted individuals of your plans. These could be your agreed executors or additional to them.
* Store somewhere accessible to one or two other people. This could be a safe, offsite secure storage, a bank vault or in the case of your digital affairs … an online service.
* Provide all information to get the ball rolling. A pin number, lock code or password that opens up the rest of the information (whether this be access to your email account or other service) needs to be stated in your Will or passed to your Digital Executor before you pass away.
Add it to your Will
It will be added as a request rather than a legal instruction but including the information as part of your Last Will and Testament is definitely a good idea. Just by stating who your Digital Executor is and the location of your list/wishes, you would be aiding them to wrap up your affairs in an orderly fashion.
When someone dies their Will becomes a public document. Through www.gov.uk you are able to search for the probate records of anyone you wish. For this reason, I would suggest you don’t include the log in details as part of your Will but as more of an accompaniment. Giving away your log in details may be overly private … particularly as passwords could be rather revealing depending on what they are!
Refer to the information as an outside document that is necessary to complete your wishes. This way you can continue to add to it or edit it up until the time that it is needed.
Estate Planning for the Future
Ask anyone who works with technology and they will happily explain that computers are still relatively new and that iPhone X smartphone will be as obsolete as the iPhone 8 was in almost as quick a time (nerdy joke there).
As the world moves forward, there will be assets that we would have never previously thought of that need to be given thought and inclusion into your Estate Planning requirements.
Folium Consulting LLP keep our operating practices up to date and relevant to ensure that you are receiving a product that will be relevant and most importantly legal long into the future.
Should you want to talk to us about your situation and Estate Planning concerns, we offer FREE consultations in a place of your choosing. We will endeavour to work to your availability and you can have anyone you wish join us for the consultation.
Contact us via phone on 0800 240 1714 or via the form, chat facility or Facebook messenger. We will be on hand to organise and help you with any questions you may have.
Andy looks after the graphical/digital services and content for Folium Consulting. With previous experience offering not only creative solutions and content writing but also estate planning and Will provision Andy is able to provide informed and engaging articles for you to read. All articles are also vetted by Folium Consulting management to ensure that the information you are receiving is current, up to date and useful.
Who Gets Your Data After Death? Accessing and Managing a Deceased Person’s Digital Remnants
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When a loved one passes away, dealing with the mundane little things is an unfortunate, and often headache-inducing, necessity. Canceling a deceased loved one’s bills and magazine subscriptions, dealing with their financial situations… And now you have to worry about your loved one’s digital affairs as well. You have to account for everything from their email inboxes to their Facebook account, and the data they left behind. What do you do with it all?
There aren’t many clear or easy ways for people to transfer their digital assets after they’ve passed on. This includes things like their iTunes media library, or even just the credentials needed to access the departed’s various online accounts. Some people have started to wonder if they should include things like passwords to their multitudes of online accounts in their wills.
It can be difficult to successfully petition the likes of Google or Apple to release information on users who have passed away. This is often true regardless of your relation to the deceased. And social media platforms keep a tight leash on their users’ login credentials, even after they’ve passed on.
Accessing Data From a Deceased Loved One’s Electronic Devices
On occasion, we here at Gillware receive calls from people looking to have data retrieved from a phone or tablet belonging to a deceased loved one. Usually all they’re looking for are photos and contacts belonging to the deceased—photos to remember them by, and friends to notify of their passing. Sometimes this data is very difficult to get a hold of outside of a data recovery lab. This is especially true when dealing with mobile devices.
When you die, all of your data stays right where you left it. Making sure your loved ones can access the data you leave behind isn’t something many of us plan for. This can leave your loved ones in a bind when you pass away and they have to deal with your affairs—both analog and digital. The trend in data storage, especially among mobile devices, is encryption and total data security. If you don’t plan ahead, accessing the data you’ve left behind on your phone or synced with your Apple or Google account can prove difficult, or even nigh-impossible, for your loved ones.
Below are some tips for retrieving data from mobile devices and computers after their users have passed on. If you cannot retrieve the data on your own or with help from Apple or Google, though, the experts at Gillware Data Recovery and Gillware Digital Forensics can help. Our data recovery and forensic engineers have often assisted people in retrieving data from phones, computers, and other mobile devices belonging to deceased loved ones. In these situations, the data we recover often helps bring much-needed closure to the deceased person’s grieving family and friends.
Accessing a Deceased Loved One’s iPhone
Apple iPhones are, unfortunately, notoriously difficult to access in the event of their owners’ passing. Unlike many Android phone models, iPhones do not have (often unencrypted) microSD cards you can take out of the phone. All of the data resides within the encrypted flash memory chip built into the device. You can’t pick the lock or bust down the door, metaphorically speaking. Either you know the passcode that gives you access to the data on the phone, or you don’t. Your iPhone does not send your passcode directly to some giant password database at Apple HQ. Only the user—and anybody else they may have told—knows their own iPhone passcode.
Apple’s data protection policies, especially their encryption policies, are a harsh mistress. You cannot appeal to an iPhone’s reason or emotion, because it has none. Apple iPhones are designed to be virtually unhackable without taking the most extreme of measures. Each successive model is more unhackable than the last. That’s just the way these things are—and even appealing to Tim Cook can’t change that.
However, while Apple can’t help you access your loved one’s iPhone after they’ve passed on, their Apple ID, iTunes, and iCloud accounts present a much less insurmountable goal. These accounts often hold data that is synchronized between the owner’s iPhone, iPad, and other devices. Access to these accounts is often easier to gain than access to the iPhone itself.
To gain access to a deceased loved one’s Apple ID, iTunes, or iCloud account information, you can contact Apple Support. Apple Support will ask for identifying information, such as a death certificate of the user, and proof of relation. Apple Support does, of course, often err on the side of caution when it comes to releasing information on another user’s account.
Accessing a Deceased Loved One’s Android Mobile Phone
If your deceased loved one owned an Android mobile phone, your options are less limited. Depending on the model of phone and version of the Android operating system, you may have some luck using one of these methods to bypass the passcode or pattern lock.
Many Android mobile phones also store some of the user’s data on a small microSD card inside the phone. You can easily remove the microSD card, place it into an adapter, and plug it into a computer, even if you can’t access the phone it belonged to. Not all mobile phones come with a microSD card preinstalled, however. In addition, how much data the user had on the SD card depends on how the user had their phone set up.
Owners of Android phones often have their phones tied to a Google account. In these cases, some data on the phone, such as contacts or photos, may be synchronized with the user’s Google Drive. Like with Apple, you can contact Google to access your loved one’s account. In the interest of protecting user privacy, Google asks for plenty of identifying information about both you and your loved one before they decide whether to comply with your request.
Some of the information Google requires includes your name, mailing address, email address, the Google account username or Gmail address of your loved one, their death certificate, and an example of an email conversation between you and the deceased.
Requesting data from a loved one’s Google account is a two-part system. Google will review your request and may request a court order before moving onto the second step.
Accessing a Deceased Loved One’s Home Computer
Unlike with mobile phones, getting into your loved one’s computer to recover the files and documents they left behind proves much less of a challenge. Even if you don’t know the password to their user account, accessing the data on a computer is downright trivial. You can access their files from another account on the PC. Or, if you don’t have one, you can remove the hard drive from the PC and view the data on it on another computer using a hard disk drive enclosure or USB adapter cable. These methods all work, unless the data on the drive has been encrypted. When you encrypt data, it is impossible to make sense of it without the proper password to unlock the data (of course, if encryption were easy to circumvent, there wouldn’t be much point in having it).
This covers most of the data a deceased loved one will have lying on their physical devices once they pass on. But what about everything they’ve left behind on the Internet? What happens to it? Can you get to it?
What Happens to Your Social Media Accounts After Death?
The people using social media to stay abreast of current events, share things that are happening in their lives, and keep in touch with their families and friends number in the billions. Between Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, Pinterest, and various other platforms, people are accruing social media presences at an accelerating rate. When a user stops using an account, it just stays there. After all, your social media account won’t know when you’re dead. It can be unsettling, to say the least, to know that a family member or friend’s social media accounts are floating around through cyberspace as if nothing has changed.
All social media platforms highly value the privacy of their users, even their deceased users. As seen above with Google and Apple, the platforms holding onto your data, such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc., are reticent to release it to just anybody. (And in this case, family and friends count as “just anybody”.)
In general, social media platforms have no interest in providing other people with the proverbial keys to the kingdom, even after a user has passed on. However, social media platforms do have protocol in place regarding deceased users and what can be done to their accounts. Their protocol tends to be stringent, as many platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, have fallen victim to celebrity death hoaxes in the past.
Some social media platforms have policies in place allowing people who were close to a deceased user to make limited decisions about what happens to their account after they have passed on. These include things like Facebook and Instagram’s memorial accounts. For the most part, though, social media platforms simply lock or deactivate the deceased user’s account.
Setting Up a Facebook Memorial Account
Facebook’s policy regarding deceased users allows for deceased users’ accounts to be transformed into “memorial accounts.” The deceased user is not treated as an “active” user and does not appear on potential friends lists for other users and other public spaces, although anything the user shared remains in place. Friends and family of the deceased user can post on the wall of the deceased and share memories of them.
Nobody can log into the deceased user’s account or alter any information on their account. However, if the user had defined a legacy contact prior to their passing, the legacy contact is allowed limited access to moderate the memorial account, and can request to download a copy of the account. However, they will not have access to the user’s private messages or be able to add or remove friends.
Only the user themselves can designate a legacy contact. In your Facebook account settings, you can choose a legacy contact, arrange to have your account memorialized after your death, or request to have your account deleted after you pass on.
A verified immediate family member on Facebook can request to have their departed loved one’s account memorialized or permanently deleted by contacting Facebook Support.
Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, has a similar policy, with memorial accounts of its own for deceased users. However, unlike Facebook, users cannot arrange to have their account memorialized before they pass on. Instead, a relative of the deceased user must contact Instagram and provide a copy of the user’s death certificate.
Deactivating a Deceased User’s Twitter Account
Unlike Facebook, Twitter has no options for “memorializing” deceased users’ accounts. But like Facebook, Twitter refuses to share login credentials for a deceased user’s account, so nobody can post on their behalf or read through their direct messages. Twitter will deactivate the account, which puts it in a queue for permanent deletion.
If you have login credentials to the deceased user’s account, you can simply deactivate their account just as easily as you would your own. If you do not know their credentials, though, you must go through Twitter Support. To request the deactivation of a deceased user’s account, you must fill out Twitter Support’s Privacy Form. To prevent abuse of this feature, Twitter requires you to provide information about yourself and the user. This includes a copy of their ID and your ID, and may include a Power of Attorney authorizing you to act on their behalf. If you meet these criteria, Twitter will honor your request to deactivate the deceased user’s account.
Removing LinkedIn Profiles for Deceased Users
Like any online account, nothing automatically happens to your LinkedIn account when you die. This can make it distressing for your loved ones, coworkers, or classmates if, after your death, LinkedIn serves up your profile to them in a “People You Might Want to Link To” email.
LinkedIn Help requires a friend or relative of the deceased to go through a rather involved process to close a LinkedIn profile for a deceased user. LinkedIn allows anybody to submit the form to remove the profile of a user who has passed on. However, since LinkedIn asks for you to state your relationship to the deceased, they will likely deny any request made by someone who is not close to the deceased.
Deactivating a Deceased Google User’s Account
You can request to have a deceased loved one’s Google account, including their Google+ page, Google Drive, Gmail inbox, and YouTube account, deleted by contacting Google Support. You will have to go through many of the same steps as you would when trying to access data stored on a loved one’s Google account as we discussed earlier. Google is more likely to honor a request to simply deactivate a deceased user’s account altogether than to release data from or provide access to the account. Understandably, deactivating a deceased user’s account is less of a breach of privacy than sharing their data.
Planning for the Future: Keeping Your Data Manageable and Accessible After Death
Losing a loved one is painful enough. We wish that dealing with the myriad things left behind in their absence were easier. Almost nobody likes thinking about mortality. Even fewer people relish the thought of dealing with everything their deceased loved one left behind.
Throw in our swiftly-accumulating social media accounts in the mix and things get uglier. Your grieving loved ones quickly become inundated with a flood of tiring and frustrating work as they find and deactivate the roughly half-dozen accounts the average person has today.
You can ensure that dealing with your digital affairs when you pass on doesn’t put your loved ones through unnecessary layers of bureaucracy by creating a digital estate plan.
Estate planning is an important part of making sure everything goes smoothly after you’ve shed your mortal coil. Estate planning includes writing up a Last Will and Testament, financial or health care Power of Attorney, and other documents. In the modern age, what to do with all your digital remains has to be taken into consideration as well.
A digital estate plan is, as its name suggests, a plan for your digital estate—the online data and digital documentation and belongings you’ve accumulated over the years. Your digital estate encompasses everything from digital financial records to your online accounts. Keeping your digital accounts accessible after death is part of having a good digital estate plan.
Creating a Digital Estate Plan
A digital estate plan will help your family deal with whatever you leave behind when you pass on. This includes accessing and appropriately managing your online accounts, determining whether any of your digital property has any financial value that needs to be reported, and distributing and transferring any digital assets. A digital estate plan can even keep you and your family safe from “ghosting”, or identity theft of deceased persons.
Planning your digital estate involves tallying up all of your digital records and online accounts. This includes all of your data storage hardware in addition to your online accounts. Once you’ve made a list of your digital assets, you decide what should be done with each, just as you would with your physical assets.
Some people recommend creating a separate “digital will” for your digital assets. In your will, you can appoint a digital executor. A digital executor will manage your digital estate, just like an executor manages your physical estate.
However, while Wisconsin has laws in place regarding “digital asset custodians”, not all states have legislation regarding digital estate planning. And as a result, your digital executor may not be legally recognized. Despite the legal limbo, though, appointing a digital executor can still make dealing with your estate much easier. A digital estate plan is still of great use, even if you cannot formalize it in a legally binding document.
Using Password Management Tools to Manage Your Digital Estate
We here at Gillware recommend that you store your passwords in a safe, secure place. Common choices are a locked file cabinet or a safe or safety deposit box. Only your trusted loved ones should be able to access it in the event of your death. The easiest and most convenient way to do this is with a password manager, such as KeePass.
With KeePass, you can store a digital record of all your online and device passwords in a database file. This includes anything from email, social media accounts, and streaming and data storage accounts to your smartphone’s passcode. With your password credentials in hand, your loved ones can easily deal with the digital cruft that built up over the course of your life.
Of course, this allows your loved ones to see all of the data on your accounts. You may want to exercise prudence in what login credentials you make available to your heirs.
There are many options for you to choose from to make your password database file accessible only to the right people. To make sure your loved ones can get to the file itself, leave the database on a flash drive or burn it to a CD. The next step is ensuring that only the right people have the master password to unlock the database.
Whatever you do, proactively planning your digital estate can make things much easier on your loved ones once you’ve moved on.
Keep in mind that we here at Gillware are data recovery and IT experts, not probate law experts. To plan your digital estate, discuss the matter with your estate lawyer, just as you would to plan your physical estate.
Why You Need a Will and a Living Will
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A Last Will and Testament, commonly referred to as a Will, allows one to specify how their assets will be distributed and who will be in charge of distributing those assets as the Executor of their estate upon their passing. This is different from your Agent / digital executor on digital estate planning websites such as www.MemorializeMe.com but often have some of the same responsibilities. The main difference is an executor is a legal entity and an Agent is not.
Here are a few important points to consider including in your will:
- Name an Executor/Agent to handle your estate, including all your digital accounts, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, iTunes
- Choose a guardian for your children
- Set-up a trust for minor children and name someone to manage the trust
- Decide who will inherit your property by naming primary and alternative heirs
- Who will be the beneficiary of your 401(k), IRA. Assets in those accounts will be transferred automatically to your named beneficiaries when you die, even if your will says otherwise
- Specify how you would like your physical remains to be disposed of, by cremation, the type of burial or donated to science.
- Name a caretaker for your pets
A living will is a legal document which allows one to express their wishes to doctors in the event they become incapacitated, and unable to express their wishes. It is often combined with a “health care proxy,” which allows you to designate someone to make health care decisions for you if you become incapacitated. The living will and the health care proxy together make up what is called an advanced health care directive.
Here are a few important points to consider including in your living will:
- Stating whether you would like life-prolonging treatments such as blood transfusions, CPR, dialysis, surgery or breathing support
- Specify whether you would like artificial feeding or hydration
- If you do NOT wish to prolong life treatments, and wish your death to occur naturally you can choose to have pain relief administer to keep you comfortable until your life ends naturally
It is recommended that we review our will every year to ensure it remains current with our wishes. It is also a good idea to check it after major life changes, including the death of one of your heirs, the birth of a potential new heir, a significant shift in your financial situation such as major adjustments to your investment portfolio, real estate purchases and sales, and changes to the tax code.
Websites such as www.MemorializeMe.com are becoming more and more popular as they allow you to save your important documents such as wills and passwords all-in -one safe place. The website also allows you to easily up-date your documents, and important information. Most importantly it will inform your executor/ agent that these important documents exist at the appropriate time.
Social media users are being urged to appoint a digital executor to make sure their wishes for their accounts are respected after death.
Many people do their banking, insurance and other financial business online, as well as engage on social media platforms, without giving much thought to legal protocols.
Director of Operations at the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network Narelle Clark told Nine to Noon people are increasingly storing their personal and financial information online.
They often don’t read the fine print and have no idea what will happen to their digital footprint if they die.
Ms Clark is hosting a forum set up by Internet New Zealand in Wellington on Thursday, which will feature experts discussing the types of steps people can take to protect their digital legacy.
“What you should do is sit down and, alongside your normal will, think up all of the things you want to do with your digital footprint,” she said.
“All of this stuff that you’re accumulating online, particularly if it’s got monetary value – I can’t stress that enough, if it’s got monetary value – make sure that your designated heirs can get access to all this after you move on.”
Some people want their Facebook accounts to remain open after they die so people can visit their page and remember them. Photo: 123RF
Facebook now allows members to set up a legacy contact, allowing its user to nominate someone who will decide whether their page is shut down, or kept online as a memorial page to the deceased.
“You can also download the entire contents offline so that your family can remember your photos and so forth offline, if they want to sort through them offline rather than online, but people often find having some online presence – especially if that’s how they interacted with you – can be comforting.
“People wanted to leave it there because they can go to that person’s Facebook page and remember them and be comforted by the memories and times they had fun together, when they visited the Louvre together or Eiffel Tower or whatever they did.”
Google, meanwhile, might not hand over access to family members without a court order, to protect the privacy of people who had been in correspondence with the email account holder. However, you can also set up an inactive account manager, who might be notified if your account hasn’t been used in some time.
Twitter reserves the right to keep high-profile accounts active after the death of the original owner, with the possibility that the account might use artificial intelligence to continue tweeting.
“If Twitter decides, arguably, your account is making them a lot of money because they like advertising they could well decide not to shut it down.
“And there is now such a thing as an avatar, that can live on and tweet in your name using artificial intelligence to look at all the tweets you used to tweet.”
New Zealand Law Society has a checklist online, about what questions you should ask yourself about what you want to happen with your digital legacy after you die, and information about what different social media providers require to store, disclose or remove your content.