You Need To Deal With Your Digital Legacy Right Now

You Need To Deal With Your Digital Legacy Right Now

You Need To Deal With Your Digital Legacy Right Now

Click here to view original web page at You Need To Deal With Your Digital Legacy Right Now

Illustration: Tara Jacoby/GMG

It used to be that when someone died, their executor would follow a standard roadmap to settle their estate: clean out the house, go through the file cabinets, and file a tax return at the end of the year. Now this wasn’t exactly easy – handling the administration after a loved one’s death can be emotionally and logistically brutal – but at least everything you were dealing with was tangible. Nowadays we live our lives at least partly online, and that can mean a big headache for our families when we die: How do you sort through the deceased digital accounts and possessions when you don’t even know what they are?

“Twenty years ago, all an executor needed to do was collect the mail for three months and they’d have everything they need,” says Alison Besunder, a trusts and estates attorney in New York City. “As we move into a paperless, digital society everyone keeps their critical information in their heads.”

How to inventory your digital life – your online bank accounts, your social media, your email — has only recently become standard practice in estate planning. In the binder she gives to clients to help them get organised, Besunder has incorporated questions to get people started on simply identifying the components of their online lives. After all, it’s easy to note in your will that your niece gets the antique clock, but you might totally forget about your Flickr account or ancient LiveJournal.

First Things First

If you haven’t already, you must make a will and designate a fiduciary. You should also consider what happens if you are incapacitated or temporarily disabled, and appoint someone as agent under a power of attorney.

“The power of attorney should include digital-assets provisions designating someone to access your online accounts,” says Besunder. The appointed fiduciary (either the executor when you die or a power of attorney when you’re incapacitated) will handle your affairs; having a will and a power of attorney in place will save your family a huge headache after you’re gone.

To get started, Besunder recommends breaking down the digital estate-planning into bite-sized chunks, and it helps to sort the tasks into categories. There are four major components to your digital life:

  • your passwords
  • your online bank accounts and financial life
  • your email addresses and social media, and
  • your digital assets, like photos or music.

Each one requires a different strategy to ensure that nothing gets lost or forgotten.

Passwords

You must make sure that your executor can access your computer, your phone, and your accounts. Now, you could just leave a piece of paper on your desk with all your passwords on it, but that presents some obvious problems — passwords tend to change pretty quickly, so you’d have to be diligent about keeping the list updated, and post-its are not really that secure if someone untrustworthy should happen to have access to your desk (absolutely don’t do this for an office computer).

At least make sure someone knows, or has a way of finding out, the code to get into your primary computer and your phone.

One solution is a password manager, which stores your passwords for you; it allows you to designate an emergency contact who can access your “vault” if you die or are incapacitated. Besunder does nod to the fact that anything online is vulnerable to data breaches, so it’s up to you whether you think a document, whether left in plain sight, stored in a file drawer, or stored in an encrypted file, is a better plan than the digital services. (Editor’s note: Lifehacker recommends using a password manager and changing your master password every few months.)

NB: Besunder tells me that the Apple ID is the absolute hardest to get access to after someone’s died (this doesn’t surprise me, as I regularly have trouble getting into my own Apple account). So make sure that that one, at least, is stored somewhere or otherwise accessible to your executor.

Your Financial Life

It’s very green of you to do away with your paper bank statements, but your executor still needs a way to know what your accounts are and how to access them. “At a minimum,” says Besunder, “Hand-write down where you bank, and what the account numbers are, so the fiduciary can get access.” You should do this as well for life insurance policies, stocks, brokerage accounts, retirement accounts, and credit cards. While you’re at it, go through your bank and credit-card statements and make a list of your recurring payments, like utilities, tuition, loans, even your Netflix account and newspaper subscriptions. All of this will make closing out those accounts easier for your executor.

Email Addresses and Social Media

The password to your email accounts should be in your password file. For Gmail, you can set up an “inactive account manager” — a dead man’s switch — so that if you don’t log in your account for a certain period of time, your designee will be notified. It offers you the option of including a personal message, which I declined — if I’m contacting my husband from beyond the grave, it’s going to be via good old-fashioned haunting.

Other email providers vary: Yahoo will not turn over your account no matter what you do; Microsoft will send a data DVD of all the contents to your executor; AOL will transfer ownership to another username listed on the account. You will have to wade through the terms of service for your particular provider, but here’s a good overview.

For your social media, what you do might depend on how valuable your online platform is. If you have 7 millions followers on Instagram – something that potentially could be monetised – you’ll want to leave a letter of direction about how you want to handle that account.

Facebook and Instagram both allow accounts to be memorialised; Facebook also allows you to designate legacy contact to manage your memorialised page. Twitter will let your executor or family member deactivate your account, but that’s about it. Again, check out the terms of service for each provider.

Your Digital Assets

If you have significant intellectual property – e.g., you’re a successful novelist and there’s an unfinished manuscript on your hard drive – you should designate a personal representative to handle those parts of your legacy. (Samuel Beckett, for example, did not want women performing in Waiting for Godot, and his estate has tried to enforce that.)

If you have ordinary intellectual property, like photographs or original music stored on hard drives or online services, you should still provide instructions for who owns those in your letter of direction. Your digital collections, like the books and music you buy from iTunes, are trickier – when you click “buy”, you’re not really buying that song, you’re licensing it, and it seems that Apple is not going to let you will your purchases in the same way you could if they were CDs or LPs. And think about any other virtual assets you might have: digital currenciesgames, or domain names, for example.

You would be doing your executor a favour if you cull, organise, and label these things now – I have a bunch of old hard drives in the closet, and I’m sure they all have a million precious photographs on them, so I have a goal of sorting through them and at least labelling them with what they contain. As a second line of defence, I might put them all on Dropbox, so I can share them with other family members who can access them in the event of my death.

Finally, consider your online portfolio, blog, or any other digital space that houses your work. I have hundreds of articles and essays online, and if I were to cork off tomorrow, my family would have no idea where to find them or how to keep them for posterity. I’d like my kids to be able to keep, say, the 20-50 essays that I think they would find meaningful, so I’ll likely save them to an online portfolio, in a dedicated folder as PDFs, or even — I know this is crazy — print them out. Maybe even all three.

Get Help

Feeling overwhelmed? This is exactly what a trusts and estate attorney is for, but you need to find someone who’s up on digital estate planning. The attorney should help you inventory your assets, including your digital assets, and help you leave instructions on how to access them and how to distribute them.

Besunder offers a good series of questions to ask of prospective attorneys: “Find someone you’re comfortable with and who you feel who will answer your questions. People tend to focus on cost, but the most important thing is getting it right and making sure you understand it.” In the initial meeting (or over email), be sure to ask these questions:

  • Have you have taken any courses relating to digital assets and planning? What tips did you learn?
  • How do you incorporate digital legacies into your practice?
  • What questions do you ask clients to get them on the right track?
  • Have you had any tricky situations arise out of digital legacies? How did you handle it?

If you want more info on how to sort through everything, check out Besunder’s thoughts on exactly this topic. The site The Digital Beyond is also helpful, including this post on the writer’s experience with LastPass.

For my own estate planning, I’m sorting through this bit by bit, beginning with my passwords and bank accounts. Which I’m writing on a durable, and tangible, piece of paper.

New Digital Storage Platform Offers Support To Executors

New Digital Storage Platform Offers Support To Executors

New Digital Storage Platform Offers Support To Executors

Click here to view original web page at New Digital Storage Platform Offers Support To Executors

The role of an executor can be fraught with peril as the personal representative (PR) is tasked with consolidating a lifetime of assets and liabilities. Often, the deceased may have the foresight to appoint an executor but fail to help the executor locate everything needed to administer the estate

A new digital platform aiming to help executors by creating a holistic place to store all asset and liability data has been launched with the aim of easing the intense burden placed on the personal representative.

Digital Legacy, launched by the law firm Ashfords and the brainchild of Michael Alden and Garry Mackay, allows the user to securely store the details of everything an executor would need to know. Whether it be bank information, mortgage details or gym subscriptions moving all the way to details involving social media passwords or information on how to retrieve the deceased’s Will.

Ideally, the PR will collate all assets, discharge their liabilities and then distribute the balance in accordance with the deceased’s wishes instructed by the Will or through the rules of intestacy.

Whilst this sounds like a simple process, human beings are not simple, and our financial footprints are a varied, unpredictable and often shocking labyrinth of unexpected debts and assets.

Even a professionally appointed PR would be hard pushed to find that Post Office account the deceased’s Granny opened for them as a child when the financial records they are offered show no signs of its existence.

Ultimately, human beings are notoriously poor bookkeepers. Even if we keep an accurate record in adulthood, the forgotten financial records of our childhood or even distant adult past can easily be overlooked by the savviest and organised person. The law firm’s digital platform aims to encourage the donor to make adequate and updated records of their financial affairs before they die.

This could be an important sector first for creating an easier probate process for the PR. Especially when we consider the recent past where a PR was handed a bundle of financial records and are asked to balance the liabilities and the assets. However, in the modern world, it is extremely unlikely that the encyclopedic tome of the deceased’s financial life will tell the entire story; after all, we are now digital creatures.

On average, each household has a combined debt of £17,629. A fifth of UK retirees have a debt of more than £33,000 and the gross value of equity released by UK homeowners last year exceeded £4 billion. With so many varied lending streams in the modern world and potentially historic debts attached to an estate, it can be a proverbial minefield to uncover all liabilities. That is if we have all the physical records!

However, we live in a modern world, a digital world where we are increasingly sending our information into Cloud storage and living a more paperless existence.

According to the Office of National Statistics, 90% of the UK population now use the internet; this is an increase of 10% since 2012.

Even the older generation embraced the internet in 2018, with 69% of households with two adults, where at least one is over 65-years-old, now using the internet; this is an 18% increase from 2012 and represents the largest growth of any age group using the internet.

Over a quarter of our population now use contactless billing as the sole source of their financial information and a staggering 69% of the UK adult population use online banking in 2018; a 35% increase from the 2017 statistics.

When so much of our financial and sensitive data is no longer tangible, it becomes impossible for a PR to establish, with complete certainty, an accurate and holistic picture of the deceased’s estate.

The Digital Legacy Platform sounds so simple; store all of your information, that will be needed by the people after you have died, in one place. As the platform user makes a life change that could impact on the liabilities or assets, they add them to the platform so the executor is able to find them easily.

Whilst Michael Alden claims this is a sector first, he adds that within a decade, it may become an industry norm and something that the entire population should embrace.

However, whilst this seems like a foolproof system, human error and negligence could be the downfall of the platform’s success. People will need to constantly update their records if it is to be successful and useful to the executor.

Michael Alden, Head of Trusts and Estates Team at Ashford’s and co-founder of Digital Legacy, said:

“Traditionally what executors might get is a box file of information, but future generations will not want to deal with paper.

“The purpose is to identify to executors what they should be looking for, not give them access.

“It is for the customer to decide what they want in Digital Legacy. There will usually be a mixture of hard and soft data.

“Subscriptions can be hard for executors to find and identify, whether it is Amazon Prime, or online newspapers and magazines. Until the bank is alerted to the death, it will keep paying out the money.

“The big challenge is to get people to maintain things once they have subscribed. We are all guilty of signing up for things and not following through.

“There is nobody else out there with anything like this at the moment, but in 10 years’ time it won’t seem unusual.”

Garry Mackay, Co-Founder of Digital Legacy, commented:

“Digital legacy is a further example of the firm adapting to the ever-changing needs of our clients.

“As lawyers, we have a responsibility to constantly look at innovative ways in which we can make things easier and more cost effective for our clients whilst continuing to provide the highest level of advice.”

Will this type of service become an industry norm in the future? Will this system, if embraced by society, help the role of the executor?

What happens to our online identities when we die?

What happens to our online identities when we die?

What happens to our online identities when we die?

Click here to view original web page at What happens to our online identities when we die?

Hayley Atwell in the Black Mirror episode Be Right Back.

Esther Earl never meant to tweet after she died. On 25 August 2010, the 16-year-old internet vlogger died after a four-year battle with thyroid cancer. In her early teens, Esther had gained a loyal following online, where she posted about her love of Harry Potter, and her illness. Then, on 18 February 2011 – six months after her death – Esther posted a message on her Twitter account, @crazycrayon.

“It’s currently Friday, January 14 of the year 2010. just wanted to say: I seriously hope that I’m alive when this posts,” she wrote, adding an emoji of a smiling face in sunglasses. Her mother, Lori Earl from Massachusetts, tells me Esther’s online friends were “freaked out” by the tweet.

“I’d say they found her tweet jarring because it was unexpected,” she says. Earl doesn’t know which service her daughter used to schedule the tweet a year in advance, but believes it was intended for herself, not for loved ones after her death. “She hoped she would receive her own messages … [it showed] her hopes and longings to still be living, to hold on to life.”

Although Esther did not intend her tweet to be a posthumous message for her family, a host of services now encourage people to plan their online afterlives. Want to post on social media and communicate with your friends after death? There are lots of apps for that! Replika and Eternime are artificially intelligent chatbots that can imitate your speech for loved ones after you die; GoneNotGone enables you to send emails from the grave; and DeadSocial’s “goodbye tool” allows you to “tell your friends and family that you have died”. In season two, episode one of Black Mirror, a young woman recreates her dead boyfriend as an artificial intelligence – what was once the subject of a dystopian 44-minute fantasy is nearing reality.

Esther Earl at home in 2010 … before she died, she arranged for emails to be sent to her imagined future self.
Esther Earl at home in 2010 … before she died, she arranged for emails to be sent to her imagined future self. Photograph: Boston Globe via Getty Images

But although Charlie Brooker portrayed the digital afterlife as something twisted, in reality online legacies can be comforting for the bereaved. Esther Earl used a service called FutureMe to send emails to herself, stating that her parents should read them if she died. Three months after Esther’s death, her mother received one of these emails. “They were seismically powerful,” she says. “That letter made us weep, but also brought us great comfort – I think because of its intentionality, the fact that she was thinking about her future, the clarity with which she accepted who she was and who she hoped to become.”

Because of the power of Esther’s messages, Earl knows that if she were dying, she would also schedule emails for her husband and children. “I think I would be very clear about how many messages I had written and when to expect them,” she adds, noting they could cause anxiety for relatives and friends otherwise.

Yet while the terminally ill ponder their digital legacies, the majority of us do not. In November 2018, a YouGov survey found that only 7% of people want their social media accounts to remain online after they die, yet it is estimated that by 2100, there could be 4.9bn dead users on Facebook alone. Planning your digital death is not really about scheduling status updates for loved ones or building an AI avatar. In practice, it is a series of unglamorous decisions about deleting your Facebook, Twitter and Netflix accounts; protecting your email against hackers; bestowing your music library to your friends; allowing your family to download photos from your cloud; and ensuring that your online secrets remain hidden in their digital alcoves.

In Be Right Back, a young woman recreates her dead boyfriend as an artificial intelligence.
In Be Right Back, a young woman recreates her dead boyfriend as an artificial intelligence. Photograph: Channel 4

“We should think really carefully about anything we’re entrusting or storing on any digital platform,” says Dr Elaine Kasket, a psychologist and author of All the Ghosts in the Machine: Illusions of Immortality in the Digital Age. “If our digital stuff were like our material stuff, we would all look like extreme hoarders.” Kasket says it is naive to assume that our online lives die with us. In practice, your hoard of digital data can cause endless complications for loved ones, particularly when they don’t have access to your passwords.

“I cursed my father every step of the way,” says Richard, a 34-year-old engineer from Ontario who was made executor of his father’s estate four years ago. Although Richard’s father left him a list of passwords, not one remained valid by the time of his death. Richard couldn’t access his father’s online government accounts, his email (to inform his contacts about the funeral), or even log on to his computer. For privacy reasons, Microsoft refused to help Richard access his father’s computer. “Because of that experience I will never call Microsoft again,” he says.

Our devices capture so much stuff, we don’t think about the consequences for when we’re not here

Compare this with the experience of Jan-Ole Lincke, a 24-year-old pharmaceutical worker from Hamburg whose father left up-to-date passwords behind on a sheet of paper when he died two years ago. “Getting access was thankfully very easy,” says Lincke, who was able to download pictures from his father’s Google profile, shut down his email to prevent hacking, and delete credit card details from his Amazon account. “It definitely made me think about my own [digital legacy],” says Lincke, who has now written his passwords down.

Yet despite growing awareness about the data we leave behind, very few of us are doing anything about it. In 2013, a Brighton-based company called Cirrus Legacy made headlines after it began allowing people to securely leave behind passwords for a nominated loved one. Yet the Cirrus website is now defunct, and the Guardian was unable to reach its founder for comment. Clarkson Wright & Jakes Solicitors, a Kent-based law firm that offered the Cirrus service to its clients, says the option was never popular.

“We’ve been aware for quite a period now that the big issue for the next generation is digital footprints,” says Jeremy Wilson, head of the wills and estates team at CWJ. “Cirrus made sense and ticked a lot of boxes but, to be honest, not one client has taken us up on it.”

Wilson also notes that people don’t know about the laws surrounding digital assets such as the music, movies and games they have downloaded. While many of us assume we own our iTunes library or collection of PlayStation games, in fact, most digital downloads are only licensed to us, and this licence ends when we die.

What we want to do and what the law allows us to do with our digital legacy can therefore be very different things. Yet at present it is not the law that dominates our decisions about digital death. “Regulation is always really slow to keep up with technology,” says Kasket. “That means that platforms and corporations like Facebook end up writing the rules.”

Andrew Scott stars in the new Black Mirror episode Smithereens, which explores our digital dependency.
Andrew Scott stars in the new Black Mirror episode Smithereens, which explores our digital dependency. Photograph: Netflix / Black Mirror

In 2012, a 15-year-old German girl died after being hit by a subway train in Berlin. Although the girl had given her parents her online passwords, they were unable to access her Facebook account because it had been “memorialised” by the social network. Since October 2009, Facebook has allowed profiles to be transformed into “memorial pages” that exist in perpetuity. No one can then log into the account or update it, and it remains frozen as a place for loved ones to share their grief.

The girl’s parents sued Facebook for access to her account – they hoped to use it to determine whether her death was suicide. They originally lost the case, although a German court later granted the parents permission to get into her account, six years after her death.

“I find it concerning that any big tech company that hasn’t really shown itself to be the most honest, transparent or ethical organisation is writing the rulebook for how we should grieve, and making moral judgments about who should or shouldn’t have access to sensitive personal data,” says Kasket. The author is concerned with how Facebook uses the data of the dead for profit, arguing that living users keep their Facebook accounts because they don’t want to be “locked out of the cemetery” and lose access to relatives’ memorialised pages. As a psychologist, she is also concerned that Facebook is dictating our grief.

“Facebook created memorial profiles to prevent what they called ‘pain points’, like getting birthday reminders for a deceased person,” she says. “But one of the mothers I spoke to for my book was upset when her daughter’s profile was memorialised and she stopped getting these reminders. She was like, ‘This is my daughter, I gave birth to her, it’s still her birthday’.”

While Facebook users now have the option to appoint a “legacy contact” who can manage or delete their profile after death, Kasket is concerned that there are very few personalisation options when it comes to things like birthday reminders, or whether strangers can post on your wall. “The individuality and the idiosyncrasy of grief will flummox Facebook every time in its attempts to find a one-size-fits-all solution,” she says.

Pain points … should we allow loved ones to curate our legacy, or create ‘memorial pages’?
Pain points … should we allow loved ones to curate our legacy, or create ‘memorial pages’? Photograph: Yui Mok/PA

Matthew Helm, a 27-year-old technical analyst from Minnesota, says his mother’s Facebook profile compounded his grief after she died four years ago. “The first year was the most difficult,” says Helm, who felt some relatives posted about their grief on his mother’s wall in order to get attention. “In the beginning I definitely wished I could just wipe it all.” Helm hoped to delete the profile but was unable to access his mother’s account. He did not ask the tech giant to delete the profile because he didn’t want to give it his mother’s death certificate.

Conversely, Stephanie Nimmo, a 50-year-old writer from Wimbledon, embraced the chance to become her husband’s legacy contact after he died of bowel cancer in December 2015. “My husband and I shared a lot of information on Facebook. It almost became a bit of an online diary,” she says. “I didn’t want to lose that.” She is pleased people continue to post on her husband’s wall, and enjoys tagging him in posts about their children’s achievements. “I’m not being maudlin or creating a shrine, just acknowledging that their dad lived and he played a role in their lives,” she explains.

Nimmo is now passionate about encouraging people to plan their digital legacies. Her husband also left her passwords for his Reddit, Twitter, Google and online banking accounts. He also deleted Facebook messages he didn’t want his wife to see. “Even in a marriage there are certain things you wouldn’t want your other half to see because it’s private,” says Nimmo. “It worries me a little that if something happened to me, there are things I wouldn’t want my kids to see.”

When it comes to the choice between allowing relatives access to your accounts or letting a social media corporation use your data indefinitely after your death, privacy is a fundamental issue. Although the former makes us sweat, the latter is arguably more dystopian. Dr Edinja Harbinja is a law lecturer at the University of Hertfordshire, who argues that we should all legally be entitled to postmortem privacy.

If we don’t start making decisions about our digital deaths, then someone else will be making them for us

“The deceased should have the right to control what happens to their personal data and online identities when they die,” she says, explaining that the Data Protection Act 2018 defines “personal data” as relating only to living people. Harbinja says this is problematic because rules such as the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation don’t apply to the dead, and because there are no provisions that allow us to pass on our online data in wills. “There can be many issues because we don’t know what would happen if someone is a legacy contact on Facebook, but the next of kin want access.” For example, if you decide you want your friend to delete your Facebook pictures after you die, your husband could legally challenge this. “There could be potential court cases.”

Kasket says people “don’t realise how much preparation they need to do in order to make plans that are actually able to be carried out”. It is clear that if we don’t start making decisions about our digital deaths, then someone else will be making them for us. “What one person craves is what another person is horrified about,” says Kasket.

How close are we to a Black Mirror-style digital afterlife?

Read more

Esther Earl continued to tweet for another year after her death. Automated posts from the music website Last.fm updated her followers about the music she enjoyed. There is no way to predict the problems we will leave online when we die; Lori Earl would never have thought of revoking Last.fm’s permissions to post on her daughter’s page before she died. “We would have turned off the posts if we had been able to,” she says.

Kasket says “the fundamental message” is to think about how much you store digitally. “Our devices, without us even having to try, capture so much stuff,” she says. “We don’t think about the consequences for when we’re not here any more.”

• Black Mirror season 5 launches on Netflix on 5 June.

Images

Bitcoin After Death: your digital inheritance: Part 2 - Estate planning tips

Bitcoin After Death: your digital inheritance: Part 2 – Estate planning tips

Bitcoin After Death: your digital inheritance: Part 2 – Estate planning tips

Click here to view original web page at Bitcoin After Death: your digital inheritance: Part 2 – Estate planning tips

Farrer & Co | Bitcoin After Death: your digital inheritance: Part 2 - Estate planning tips

In Part 1 of ‘Bitcoin After Death’ we discussed the ownership of cryptocurrencies and the challenges associated with leaving crypto assets to the next generation.

In The Digital Afterlife, we discussed some practical tips for dealing with digital assets in your estate and considered the difficulties for executors attempting to obtain legal title to online assets, those with both financial and sentimental value, such as iTunes accounts, Facebook, YouTube and PayPal. Often the Terms of Use for each Service Provider will dictate the rights to access someone’s digital assets on death, as often the ‘owner’ only holds a licence to use a website’s services which is non-transferable on death.

Unfortunately, there is no magic solution as the law in the UK has yet to catch up with the latest technological advances, especially in the world of cryptocurrencies. However, the following practical steps for clients and their advisers should help ensure that valuable crypto assets are not lost after death.

1. Identify crypto assets

Advisers should be asking clients at the outset to establish the extent of their estate held online, especially crypto assets with financial value such as Bitcoin. After death, it is extremely difficult to locate assets held purely online if the deceased’s personal representatives or advisers were not made aware of their existence. Due to the anonymous nature of cryptocurrencies, there is a risk that loved ones may never find them.

2. Create a digital inventory

The key practical advice for clients to make sure their digital life remains available to the next generation is to identify their online accounts and to leave a detailed inventory of all their online accounts. For clients with cryptocurrencies, this will need to include instructions how to access their private key in their cryptowallet – without this, cryptocurrency cannot be retrieved.

3. Ensure inventory is secure and up to date

However, to be effective, the inventory needs to be updated regularly and stored securely. It needs to include all passwords to access computing devices, all usernames for online accounts, and the public and private keys for cryptocurrency accounts.

Security of such an inventory is paramount. There are online password manager sites which can help. We would recommend storing an inventory with a Will held securely by the clients’ solicitor.

4. Wills and letters of wishes

Such an inventory should not be included in someone’s Will, which becomes a public document after death.

However, a Will (or, preferably, an accompanying letter of wishes) could include instructions to the executors on how an individual would like their digital estate to be administered e.g. which accounts they would like to be closed down, transferred to heirs (if possible) or memorialised, for example. While such wishes may conflict with the Terms of Use of some Service Providers, it is still helpful for executors to have as much information as possible about the wishes of the deceased. As people share more and more of their lives on the internet, this is only going to become more important.

Similarly, advisers should recommend that a Lasting Power of Attorney is put in place in the event of loss of mental capacity. If the client has cryptocurrency, consider including explicit authority for the attorney to deal with any crypto assets (although, of course, the attorney would need access to the donor’s cryptowallet and private key to administer the assets).

5. Use of trusts

It is quite common for Will trusts to be set up on death (or in lifetime) as an estate planning tool. However, although blockchain technology seems here to stay, cryptocurrencies are yet to become a mainstream trust investment due to their volatility as well as reputational concerns.

Whether trustees, especially professional trustees, will be willing to administer trusts containing cryptocurrencies will depend on their attitude to risk. Trustees have duties to invest prudently and diversify their assets, making volatile cryptocurrencies a tricky asset to manage.

Blockchain is here to stay. Whether it becomes a more mainstream investment or not will depend, in large part, on how institutional investors adopt it. However, with more and more wealthy individuals and clients investing in cryptocurrencies globally, this complex area of estate planning will become more and more prevalent.

If you enjoyed reading this, do take a look at these articles also published this month:

If you require further information about anything covered in this briefing note, please contact Caroline Vollers, or your usual contact at the firm on +44 (0)20 3375 7000.

This publication is a general summary of the law. It should not replace legal advice tailored to your specific circumstances.

© Farrer & Co LLP, March 2019

How to Manage Household Finances After Your Spouse Dies

How to Manage Household Finances After Your Spouse Dies

How to Manage Household Finances After Your Spouse Dies

Click here to view original web page at How to Manage Household Finances After Your Spouse DiesPhoto: Getty Images

Few people want to consider what might happen after the death of a spouse, but it’s an inevitability that many of us will have to prepare for—and for widows or widowers who aren’t prepared, the period immediately after a spouse’s death can be a financial nightmare.

The New York Times has an in-depth guide to managing household finances after a spouse dies, starting with the advice to share as much financial information as possible before this even happens:

Susan Covell Alpert was crushed by grief when her 71-year-old husband, Larry, died of leukemia in 2008. Adding to her misery, a tidal wave of financial decisions and tasks demanded the new widow’s attention at a time when she could barely think straight.

Like many couples, Susan and Larry, who were married for 46 years, had divided the financial chores. Larry handled the investments, and Susan paid some bills. Though Ms. Alpert owned a business arranging travel incentives for large corporations, she was not prepared to manage the household’s financial affairs.

“I knew every stock, and I knew where everything was,” said Ms. Alpert, 78. “But I didn’t know what to do with it all.”

If you and your spouse also divide financial chores, make sure both of you understand not only the state of the household finances but also how to complete each other’s tasks. Consider creating a hard copy list of financial accounts, with login and password information where appropriate—and keep it updated. If you’re concerned about password security, you can deposit that list with your lawyer or with the executor of your will. (You do have a will, right?)

After the death of a spouse, the surviving widow or widower will be faced with myriad tasks, from arranging for the funeral to dealing with the deceased’s credit cards. The NYT suggests creating a prioritized to-do list:

Surviving spouses can alleviate some stress by attacking the to-do list in stages, [certified financial planner Alexandra Armstrong] said. At the top: Notify the Social Security Administration, call the life insurance company and pay important bills, such as those for utilities and property insurance premiums. If a husband was still working when he died, his widow should check with his employer for any unpaid salary, accrued vacation days and retirement plans. She also may be eligible for veterans’ benefits.

One of Ms. Alpert’s first moves was to name her two adult daughters as her agents for her financial and health care powers of attorney.

Read the full article to learn more about how to both prepare for and handle the financial tasks that arise after the death of a spouse—and if you have additional advice to share, please do.

Images