Learn How to Preserve Your Data with Take Control of Your Digital Legacy

Digital Estate Planning

When people think about estate planning, they are typically concerned with the distribution of physical assets at their deaths.  However, most people fail to consider (and plan for) their digital assets.

Digital assets are digital property that has to do with our electronic devices, and  includes all of the content that we own and have stored electronically  In other words, digital assets may include the content in our online bank and credit card accounts; music, movies, pictures and books in electronic devices such as computers, smartphones and tablets, and in our email and social media accounts such as Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr.

Without a plan in place, you risk burying your family in red tape as they try to get access to and deal with your online accounts that may have sentimental, practical or monetary value. If you have an email account, your emails might be deleted before your family has a chance to review them. In other cases, maybe your family gains access to emails that you’d rather they didn’t see.  Same goes with the content of a Facebook account.

Additionally, certain industry estimates place the average value of a person’s digital assets at around $30,000.  It’s clearly not only an issue of family photos and other sentimental assets. If you have an online-only bank account or a PayPal account (or Bitcoins), your executor may never know about that account if not for your digital estate plan.

But planning for online assets can be complicated: These accounts often are governed by the terms-of-service agreement to which you agreed upon opening the account. Often, service providers have created those agreements to comply with federal laws that limit access to account information to authorized users.  Plus, most state laws don’t offer specific support to executors in taking control of digital assets. Next year, Florida is expected to adopt a law that, once enacted, would give estate representatives and trustees easier access to digital assets, making it easier to retrieve a loved one’s stored data.

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Important tips regarding digital estate planning

It can be hard to stay on top of all of the changing media, electronic devices and social media websites. The majority of Americans have at least one kind of digital account like e-mail, Facebook or Twitter. But, what happens to these accounts when you die? It is important for people to know how to incorporate social media into an estate plan as part of their estate administration.

Digital media is here to stay. With almost everyone having at least an email account it can be important to consider what happens to these accounts when people die. If an account is left open it can be vulnerable to hackers, as in the case of Joan Rivers. Weeks after she died her Facebook had a posting endorsing a new IPhone. There are some steps for a person to consider when coming up with a digital estate plan.

First, people should make an inventory of all digital media accounts they have. These include all email addresses, Twitter, Facebook, blogs, online backup programs, photo sites, financial accounts, ITunes, Amazon, home utilities managed online and other electronic sites. After coming up with this list, keep it in a secure location. Something like a password management program can keep all this information in one place. After having the information secured, designate a family member or trusted friend as the digital estate executor. This person will be in charge of all of the digital account information and will have your instructions of what to do with it should you die. Finally, decide what you want to do with your digital information when you die. This should be included in a digital estate plan for your executor to carry out.

Everyone should have an estate plan to make sure their wishes are carried out after death. A digital estate plan is another thing to consider, along with the more traditional wills and trusts.


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Why Executors Worry about…Digital Assets

Do you know what digital estate assets are?

As an estate trustee, you have to secure estate property. This can include protecting valuable digital property.

Here are some digital estate dos and don’ts for executors.

Electronic or digital information can be a digital asset. It can be stored in various electronic devices such as hard drives, computers, tablets and cellphones. Information can be stored in memory devices, networks, online or in the cloud.

As an executor, you are required to collect estate assets. You will need to include devices with digital or electronic information.

Digital assets may have value. This can include:

  • emotional (family photos, videos, music)
  • financial (business websites, domains, blogs)
  • creative (copyrights, unpublished manuscripts, musical compositions)

It may be difficult to distinguish what is valuable.

How Do Executors Get Access Get a head start with a list of a person’s usual websites, user names and passwords. This assumes the person who asked you to be executor can prepare a list.

You may need to hire a tech wizard to gain access to the deceased’s digital world.

Social media sites may be controlled by user agreements. These may dictate that a user has no property rights. The user only has a license and access to the network. The user agreement may also specify that a password is non-transferable.

The legal situation is not clear for executors. Most social media sites rely on their user agreement. These prohibit access and can deny estate trustees the right to deal with content.

Digital asset legislation, if it exists, varies by jurisdiction. Some areas have statutory rules. As yet, no uniform laws exist to create a code of conduct.

Executors have little guidance from court decisions. Few cases have ended up in court over digital property.

A clear understanding of your executor’s rights and responsibilities may not be possible.

You, as executor, may not know how to deal with digital accounts. You may not be able to identify what electronic files should be closed or maintained.

You must, however, take control of online financial information.

Online identity theft is common but difficult to detect.

Executors may not find paper bank or credit card statements. Utility accounts may be preauthorized and paid from electronic accounts.

Be aware that you may need to stop or close online bank, credit card or e-trading accounts. These personal financial resources need to be protected.

Even emails and voicemails may need to be examined. These may require access usernames and passwords.

Reward and loyalty programs for airline, shopping and membership rewards may exist. These may be non-transferable or transferable within a limited time, subject to specific conditions.

Common Questions without Answers

How should executors deal with online photos, videos and materials? Should they make copies of online materials?

Should domain registrations, website and blogs be preserved?

Will the business website need to be maintained?

What about membership and online subscription lists?

I welcome your thoughts on the best way for executors to deal with digital assets.

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How to Protect the Deceased from Identity Theft

With our lives so documented in a digital world today, the deceased are even easier victims of identity theft than ever.  It can be extremely distressing to discover that your loved one’s identity has been stolen following their death.  Not only can it be very emotionally tormenting, the financial implications to the good-standing of the deceased (& deceased’s surviving family) can be catastrophic.  It can be so frustrating for family to witness the good name and credit of a loved one destroyed with little regard.

Why target the deceased?
The dead have always been vulnerable to identity theft, but this has become more of an issue as we have moved into a digital age, with so much of our personal data stored on electronic devices and floating around in the ‘ether’ of the Internet.  Many years ago fraud criminals would have to study death notices and obituary listings in newspapers or hang around cemeteries.  Today much of our personal data is entered into electronic databases, and despite the changes in data protection and privacy laws, we are still vulnerable to having our identity cloned or stolen.  Some people choose to disclose far more personal data then they should on public sites.  A recent survey from ID Analytics revealed that the details of 2.5 million

Americans are used every year to illegally apply for credit on goods and services.The funeral industry has tried to embrace the digital culture by offering us online obituaries and memorials, even going so far today as posting these on Facebook and Twitter.  This just makes it all the easier for the criminal element to identify targets.  Once a deceased target has been identified, thieves will dig deeper to get details from the death certificate and Social Security Death Index File.  Remember that these are public records and certified copies can be requested online now.

Statistics on identity theft also show that family members do steal and assume an identity – made all the easier as they already have access to personal data.

The tough economic times we are in has also contributed to an increase in crimes of fraud.

What steps can you take to protect your loved one’s identity?
There are a number steps you can take to help prevent identity theft following a death.  The surviving family, or the executor of the deceased’s estate, will generally be responsible for this.

  • Make sure you obtain additional certified copies of the death certificate, this way you can begin notifying multiple organizations/authorities at once.
  • Notify the three national credit reporting agencies & request that a “Deceased Alert” be placed on the deceased’s report.
  • Request a copy of the deceased’s credit report in order that you can determine exactly what credit accounts remain open at the time of death.  The credit report will also list the addresses of any creditors.

Contact details for the three credit agencies are:Equifax
Office of Consumer Affairs
P O Box 105169
Atlanta, GA  30348

P O Box 9701
Allen, TX  75013

Trans Union
P O Box 6790
Fullerton, CA  92834

You will need the deceased’s personal data to request a copy of the credit report.  You will also be required to provide data to prove your identity and your relationship to the deceased.

Make a checklist of organizations/institutions to notify
As soon as possible after the death has occurred you should start notifying all the organizations, institutions and authorities.  This can be a mammoth task, it may be made easier if the deceased had put their affairs in order, and you may need to enlist some help with this.  You will need to notify in writing or by phone:

  • Credit Card companies
  • Banks
  • Loan and Lien holders
  • Mortgage Company

You will need to confirm which accounts are being transferred to surviving family and which are being closed.  Any accounts that are to be closed, you should request that a formal statement be added to the record stating, “Account closed. Holder is deceased”.You will also need to notify as quickly as possible:

  • Social Security Administration (SSA)
  • Insurance companies – life, health, house, auto etc
  • Department of Motor Vehicles
  • Any professional license institutions
  • Memberships of any clubs
  • If a veteran – the Veteran’s Administration (VA)
  • If an immigrant – the US Immigration Services

Due to the rising issue of identity theft, and the fact that many bereaved just do not want to deal with the process of notifying so many agencies, there are companies that undertake this for you.  The fees for such a service can vary.  Some firms charge a monthly or annual fee for identity protection services and other firms that particularly target supporting the identity protection of the deceased will charge a one-off fixed fee.  For example Dignity Shield charges $500.00 to secure your loved one’s identity upon death.It is recommended that you continue to monitor any use of the deceased’s identity for some time after death.  An Identity Protection service will do this for you.  You can also check the website www.myidscore.com to assess the risk status of an identity.