Death in the digital age: Are you prepared?

How to Protect Your Digital Assets After Your Death – an overview

How to Protect Your Digital Assets After Your Death

Let’s face it: your Email account, Facebook page and digital photo albums are all going to outlive you. You must make decisions for how your online legacy will be managed after your death, just like you would for your home or financial assets.

Your digital assets are valuable

Your digital assets can have monetary value, just as your homes and cars do. Digital music libraries and Internet domain names you may own can often be sources of wealth. According to Sedo, a domain name retailer, the domain name HotelsGuide.com recently sold for $60,000.  It would be a mistake for you to assume that your digital assets are immaterial to your overall estate. Digital assets that seem trivial to you may in fact be extremely valuable to your heirs.

A digital estate plan can also preserve online content that will have sentimental value to your family once you die. Facebook’s “memorialization” feature is a prime example of this. When you die your family can request that your Facebook account be “memorialized.” This means that your online friends can still leave comments, pictures and videos, but no one is allowed to log into the account. This comforting stream of posts creates a way for your friends, family and co-workers to remember you during the holidays or on your birthday.

The importance of creating a digital estate plan

You are likely the only person who knows the contents of your online accounts. When you die, these unmonitored accounts will continue to hold sensitive information, such as your credit card number. This can put your estate at risk for digital identity theft when you die because con artists will use these unwatched accounts to glean your personal information. The information can then be used to fraudulently open credit cards in your name and make purchases.

A digital estate plan gives your heirs or executor the legal ability to access valuable photos, videos and banking information. This plan is necessary because giving someone your username and password does not legally authorize them to access or manage your online accounts when you die. For example, if your deceased husband has an Amazon account, which contains his credit card information, it is technically illegal for you to use his username and password to log into his account and remove that sensitive data. In an attempt to curb identity theft, a mix of online user agreements and state and federal laws have made it illegal for anyone but the account holder to access information they have stored in the digital realm. These changes have severely restricted a family’s ability to access, manage and protect a deceased individual’s digital information. Your digital estate plan works as a way to navigate around this complex web of user agreements and laws.

What to include in your digital estate plan

An inventory of your online accounts.

You should create a master list of every website you use, and your user name, password and security question for each website. Include everything: email accounts, social media websites, your blog, photo sharing websites, online shopping websites (such as Amazon), credit card accounts, and online bill paying websites.

Several companies have created software that makes this task easier. Lastpass.com and 1Password are password-management programs that encrypt all of your username and password information, and then store it on your computer. You can give the Executor of your estate a master password for the program so that they can easily retrieve the data.

Appoint someone to manage your online accounts.

In your will (or trust) you can grant the executor of your estate the legal ability to manage and close your online accounts, and to remove valuable information from the accounts when you die. This expressed grant of power lends credibility to the executor when they reach out to companies in an attempt to manage your digital assets. For example, Amazon.com has a very complex user agreement that does not clearly state what your executor is entitled to do to your account once you die. Amazon ends the user agreement by stating “for communications concerning this Agreement, please contact Amazon by email.” If your executor did need to reach out to Amazon to request that credit card information be removed, the company is more inclined to work with them if Amazon is positive that you granted your executor that power.

Proactively reach out to companies

Finally, you and an estate-planning attorney can draft a letter authorizing companies that hold your online information to release it to the executor of your estate. As previously discussed, online user agreements and state and federal law have made it illegal for your executor to access your accounts directly. This letter expressly allows the company to release the contents of your account to your executor. This can help to alleviate the company’s fears about being sued for releasing such information, thus making them more likely to work with your estate representatives.

Is Your Digital Life Ready for Your Death?

Article: Digital Estate Planning

Below is an abstract of Kathleen Farro’s recent article entitled, “The ‘Digital First Sale Doctrine:’ A Necessary Piece of the Digital Estate Planning Puzzle:”

As technology advances, the aspects of our lives that are played out in the digital realm, both personal and professional, are ever-increasing. We conduct our banking online, we communicate with friends, family and business associates via email and social networks, and we create original, creative works on internet-based applications. Our creative work, professional work, and practical communications that were once limited to oral communication and paper records are now captured, conveyed, and stored digitally. Trading tangible media for the digital realm has become commonplace. Some changes are as simple as the box of photographs stored in the closet that are being replaced by expansive online libraries of digital photographs. On a grander economic scale, for example, is the marketability of a celebrity persona that was once measured by his or her ability to promote products in a newspaper print ad or on a television commercial. Now, the number of people accessing that celebrity’s life, opinions and preferences in the digital realm can have an equal or greater financial effect.

While this evolution can have many advantages in our every day lives – making thinking, doing, communicating, and working – easier, quicker, more efficient, and less expensive, it can also jeopardize things that we may take for granted in our purely “tangible” life. The digital age may decrease our actual, human interactions and compromise our privacy. It may reduce what may be considered “our property” in the tangible world to something owned and controlled by others when carried out in the digital realm. Within the conversion to a digital world, our property rights, and thus our ability to convey and devise those to others, may, quite literally, get lost in translation.

The property rights we most frequently give up to carry on life in the digital realm are those that are carried out and promulgated within a framework of copyright-protected material. For example: email, Facebook, Twitter, and various “gaming” activities are copyright-protected.

For estate planners, these facts present hurdles to carrying out the wishes of those who desire to transfer some of their digital “property” to their loved ones, friends, or others either by devise or within an inter vivos trust. For example, a man may spend years building an iTunes library of music. At $0.99 to $1.29 a song, and likely more in the future, he may invest thousands of dollars over the years in this collection. Upon his death or disability, he may wish to transfer this library to his children. The current law does not allow this; the point at which he himself is unable to use the library, there is no way in which any party can lawfully utilize that song library.

This paper will examine the property rights individuals generally hold in copyrighted material and digital copyrighted material. It provides a thorough explanation of the First Sale Doctrine as applied to tangible media and the limitations on its applicability in the digital realm. It then goes on to explain Congress’s first attempt at incorporating digital media into the First Sale Doctrine in 1998 – what conclusions it drew and why Congress declined to update the doctrine. Between technological advancements, court cases in the U.S. and overseas, and various other legal principles and practices, there are now substantial policy bases for revisiting a “digital” First Sale Doctrine. The implementation of a digital First Sale Doctrine would have far-reaching effects; however, for our purposes, this doctrine would at least provide individuals with assurance that their digital property can be preserved to pass along to others.

 

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What Happens To Your Online Data When You Die?

What Happens To Your Online Data When You Die?

heatherhoesly/Flickr

Passwords, banking records, social media accounts—day by day our lives create more and more data. But what becomes of all that data when we pass away is a looming problem with no clear answer.

Marc Davis, a partner architect at Microsoft responsible for online services such as Bing, MSN, and advertising, raised this and other troubling issues about citizens’ rights to their own information at a panel at this weekend’s SXSW conference, called “Demystifying Online Privacy and Empowering the Digital Self.” Despite our increasingly data-intensive lives, Davis explains, the legal framework around our personal data just isn’t there yet. “Usually, where commerce and society meet legally is the concept of property,” Davis said. “What’s missing is a concept of contract law and property rights for digital information.”

Consider the concept of a digital will: A legally binding statement to the world declaring who should have access to your information after you die. It’s a question that is bound to get only more complicated as our digitally engaged population grows older and expires. Think about how many passwords and online accounts you have. Who else has access to that information now? Whom would you like to get access after you die? How would the providers that host that data in the cloud even know you died, and what standards could they use to verify that fact? As the information we store in the cloud becomes more voluminous and valuable, these questions become more than simply academic.

Davis tells PM that professionals in the legal, funeral, and estate planning professions are just starting to come to grips with the problem of what to do with information after death. He’s been part of several panels on the subject in the past two years, and recently there have been a series of Digital Death Days intended to educate the industry about the problem (the next one in the United States is May 6th, in San Francisco). A few startup companies such as Legacy Locker and Entrustet have also sprung up to handle the legal and financial issues of data after death.

Yet most people don’t know how much data they have in the cloud in the first place, and have made no preparations for what happens to that information after death. “More and more people are living their lives online, but also their lives in the physical world are connecting to the Internet,” Davis says. That produces information with obvious financial value, such as banking and tax records, but also plenty of information with personal value: photos, music, communications, and social networking accounts. Then add in all of the data we automatically generate relating to our location, buying habits, Internet surfing histories, and more. “There’s a whole swath of data that we create that increasingly gets bound to our identity so that we leave a digital legacy,” Davis says.

The subject is deeply intertwined with the larger issue of digital identity. As Davis points out, that it’s not just after death that digital property issues come into play. “Every life phase we go through where we’ve established structures, documents and contracts to handle property and identity—birth, marriage, divorce, retirement—we’ve created as a civilization ways to handle the movements of rights and assets. So we’re at that time in history now where we’re applying these metaphors and frameworks onto the digital realm.”

The courts probably won’t figure out this complicated conundrum anytime soon. But for individuals the solution is simple, Davis says—include a digital will along with your regular will. Leave instructions for how to get to your digital assets and what to do with them. Then your online identity won’t end up in digital limbo.

Digital Files After Death, What Happens to Your Digital Legacy?

Immaterial, not insignificant: Digital assets and estate planning

More and extra, individuals are integrating their lives into the digital realm. Traditional print information is changing into a factor of the previous, individuals can conduct banking with out ever chatting with a teller and social relationships are constructed with out face-to-reality communication — simply to the touch on a couple of examples. Not to say the truth that blogs, akin to this one, are a typical means for offering data to broad viewers.

However, although individuals are generally buying, sustaining or managing assets and property on this method, the psychological connection could not be made with bodily assets and property. As such, the estate planning course of might unintentionally fail to deal with an individual’s digital life.

Of course, some monetary observers have famous the rising significance of digital assets and how they match into estate planning. After all, households could also be compelled to cope with an individual’s presence within the digital world with none steerage if preparations aren’t made.

A latest article from CNBC factors out that figuring out crucial digital assets and accounts is a useful step to include intangible property in an estate plan. After all, estate directors might merely have to know the extent of an individual’s life within the digital realm with a view to take motion. Here are some frequent sources or websites of digital assets:

  • Electronic banking accounts
  • Electronic monetary administration companies
  • Digital transaction providers (corresponding to PayPal)
  • Digital picture albums
  • Music collections
  • Social media companies
  • Email accounts

Of course, that is not an exhaustive checklist of things to think about when organizing a digital estate, but it surely’s a spot to begin.

One factor price noting is that estate planning legislation in Michigan might not instantly deal with this situation, on condition that it is a comparatively new side of day by day life. Keeping this in thoughts, it might be most useful to work with an attorney who’s acquainted with related state legal guidelines and the altering wants of households.

Source: CNBC, “Protect online assets with a digital estate plan,” Thomas Henske, May 19, 2014