After their son’s suicide, one Wisconsin couple was desperate for answers. They tried to log into his e-mail and Facebook accounts but failed. The grieving parents finally got a court order to access these online records, arguing that just as their son’s death gave them ownership of his tangible […]
8 Documents That Are Essential to Planning Your Estate
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If you want loved ones to remember you fondly, tackle your estate-planning tasks. Your heirs will thank you for not leaving a legal mess to sort out.
Many of us want to get going on this planning, but don’t know where to start. Here’s what you should know about eight documents that can help you get your affairs in order.
If that sounds like a lot of paperwork, don’t worry: You probably won’t need every document. And if you’re wondering where to find the documents you do need, not to worry: Just head to our partner Rocket Lawyer, where you’ll find everything you need cheap.
1. Last will and testament
A will gives you the power to decide what is in the best interests of your children and pets after you’re gone. It also can help you determine what will happen to possessions with financial or sentimental value. It typically names an executor — someone who will be in charge of following your directions. Finally, you can include any funeral provisions.
Use your will to name guardians for those under your care, including minor children and pets. Designate any assets you are leaving for their care.
If you’re married, your spouse needs a separate will, AARP says.
In the absence of a will, a probate court will name an executor — typically a spouse or grown child — for your estate. Probate proceedings are a matter of public record. So keep private information — passwords, for example — out of your will, as that information could become part of a public document.
2. Revocable living trust
A living trust is another tool for passing assets to heirs while avoiding potentially expensive and time-consuming probate court proceedings.
You name a trustee — perhaps a spouse, family member or attorney — to manage your property. Unlike a will, a trust can be used to distribute property now or after your death.
If you have substantial property or wealth, a trust can provide tax savings.
ElderLawAnswers further explains the differences between trusts and wills. Creating a trust is not a do-it-yourself project. Get an attorney’s help.
3. Beneficiary designations
When you purchase life insurance or open a retirement plan or bank account, you’re often asked to name a beneficiary, which is the person you want to inherit the proceeds when you die. These designations are powerful, and they take precedence over instructions in a will.
Keep beneficiary designation papers with your estate-planning documents. Review and update them as your life changes.
4. Durable power of attorney
This document allows you to choose someone to act on your behalf, financially and legally, in the event that you can’t make decisions.
Don’t put off this chore. You must be legally competent to assign this role to someone. Older people worried about relinquishing control sometimes put off the task until they are no longer legally competent to do it.
5. Health care power of attorney and living will
To ensure that someone can make medical decisions for you in the event you become incapacitated, establish a health care power of attorney — also called a durable health care power of attorney. This is different from the previously mentioned durable power of attorney for financial and legal affairs.
A living will lets you explain in advance of your death what types of care you do and do not want, in case you can’t communicate that in the future. It’s strictly a place to spell out your health care preferences and has no relation to a conventional will or living trust, which deals with property.
“You can use your living will to say as much or as little as you wish about the kind of health care you want to receive,” says legal site Nolo in a detailed article.
6. Provision for digital assets
Decide what to do with your digital assets, including your computer hard drive, digital photos, information stored in the cloud, and online accounts such as Facebook, Yahoo, Google and Twitter. Be sure to include a list of your passwords.
“What Happens to Your Email and Social Media After You Die?” explains how to make these decisions.
7. Letter of intent
For instructions, requests and important personal or financial information that don’t belong in your will, write a letter. Use it to convey your wishes for things you hope will be done. For example, you may have detailed instructions about how you want your funeral or memorial service to be performed.
No attorney is needed. The letter won’t carry the legal weight of a will.
8. List of important documents
Make certain your family knows where to find everything you’ve prepared. Make a list of documents, including where each is stored. Include papers for:
- Life insurance policies
- Pension or retirement accounts
- Bank accounts
- Divorce records
- Birth and adoption certificates
- Real estate deeds
- Stocks, bonds and mutual funds
Another item helpful for your heirs is a list of bills and accounts, including contact information and account numbers for each, so your representative can settle and close these accounts.
Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.
Pretty soon after, Twitter announced that they were putting their deactivation plans on hold due to the general public’s horrified response. Meanwhile, Facebook is already ahead in the death game and provide memorialised accounts of the deceased by freezing their page in time once their death has been proven […]
What happens to your Facebook and Twitter accounts after you die?
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When someone you love dies, sure, their spirit endures—but so does their social media. And when their photos, memories or posts surface unexpectedly, it can be a jarring purgatory for those still healing from the loss.
Managing the digital afterlife is “something that people should think about but don’t,” says Jed Brubaker, a professor at the University of Colorado Boulder, who specializes on the topic. “There’s a whole societal infrastructure—(coroners, cemeteries, funeral directors)—for how we think about death,” he says. “For the most part, that has not extended very well to digital content broadly and social media specifically.”
That can lead to some painful situations.
You may have braced for that birthday reminder, for instance, but then Facebook unexpectedly surfaces an “on this day” memory that just hits you in the gut. LinkedIn nudges you to congratulate a colleague on a work anniversary just a few days after a fatal heart attack took them. Not just awkward, but ouch. That hurts.
Gone, but not forgotten or erased
It’s not that we necessarily want all social records and reminders to go away. Just recently, Twitter pulled an about-face following a backlash when it announced plans to purge some inactive accounts. Folks didn’t want to lose tweets from loved ones who had passed away.
“We’ve heard you on the impact that this would have on the accounts of the deceased,” the company tweeted. “This was a miss on our part. We will not be removing any inactive accounts until we create a new way for people to memorialize accounts.”
And LinkedIn is also working on a plan to memorialize accounts, expected to be ready in the new year.
“This is understandably one of the most sensitive topics for our members, and we want to make sure the account of any member who has passed away is treated with respect,” says LinkedIn spokesperson Suzi Owens.
You can ask LinkedIn to remove the profile of a dead colleague, classmate or family member by explaining your relationship to the person, and among other requested information, supplying the date of death, obituary, and the company the person most recently worked at.
The social network graveyard
For sure, our virtual, digital lives will inevitably outlast our physical ones.
In fact, Facebook could have more dead members than living ones within 50 years, according to academics at Oxford University.
But the broad implications of the digital hereafter remain grave.
“The demise of your biological body does not completely strip you of ethical rights such as privacy and dignity,” the study’s lead author Carl Öhman said last spring. “Overall, Facebook has done a pretty good job in navigating these issues and has balanced the interests of the bereaved with those of the deceased.” But he added that it is up to the bereaved families to curate the digital legacies of loved ones that “both accommodates their grief, and supports the community around the deceased in the best way.”
What to do when you’re still alive
You don’t have to leave all the specifics for friends and family to handle after you’re gone.
With Facebook, you can request to have your account permanently deleted after you die. Or you can designate a “legacy contact” who can look after your memorialized account once you pass. Such a person can then manage tribute posts on the memorial profile, by choosing who can see those posts or contribute their own sentiments. The legacy contact can also respond to new friend requests, delete posts and remove tags.
As with everything else you leave behind, keep in mind that the legacy contact might access content that wasn’t originally visible to him or her.
According to Facebook, however, what this person won’t see are messages, ads you clicked on when you were alive, pokes, security and settings info, and photos you automatically synced but didn’t post.
To get started via web browser, head to Settings on Facebook, click “Memorialization Settings,” click “Edit,” and then examine your options. Should you choose a legacy contact, Facebook will auto-generate an editable message to send to the person you’ve picked. On mobile via the app, whether Android or iPhone, it takes only one more step to get to that option, tapping “Account Ownership and Control.”
Brubaker, who consulted with Facebook on the design of the legacy contact solution, advises people to explicitly give family members or people they trust “symbolic permission” to do what they think is best after they’re gone.
“We hear from lots of bereaved a really deep anxiety around not wanting to disrespect or dishonor the memory of their loved one but being left with a kind of ambiguity and uncertainty about what they should do,” he says.
If wishes aren’t outlined or expressed before death, you as a family member can still request that the member’s Facebook account be removed. You will have to provide proof of the death (an obit or memorial card), and proof that you have the authority to make such a request such as power of attorney documentation, a birth certificate, will or estate letter.
All the many people with Google accounts can similarly set up an Inactive Account Manager to care for the person’s Google remains after death.
But there are limits, as Google explains on the web. “We recognize that many people pass away without leaving clear instructions about how to manage their online accounts. We can work with immediate family members and representatives to close the account of a deceased person where appropriate….We cannot provide passwords or other login details. Any decision to satisfy a request about a deceased user will be made only after a careful review.”
The request for a dead person’s Google data may also require a court order.
It isn’t entirely clear how or even if the social media data from a behemoth such as Facebook that people leave behind remains commercially viable—dead people no longer look at ads, after all.
But there are still strong cases to be made for preserving our digital legacies. They may prove useful artifacts of a bygone era. Future generations may learn from the pictures and posts we leave behind. And to family members and close friends, honoring the people they’ve lost and keeping their memories alive is priceless.
(c)2019 U.S. Today
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
Please get your digital affairs in order
Click here to view original web page at Please get your digital affairs in order
I really wish I hadn’t had cause to write this piece, but it recently came to my attention, in an especially unfortunate way, that death in the modern era can have a complex and difficult technical aftermath. You should make a will, of course. Of course you should make a will. But many wills only dictate the disposal of your assets. What will happen to the other digital aspects of your life, when you’re gone?
There are several good guides to “digital wills” and one’s “digital legacy” out there, including e.g. handling your Facebook and Google accounts, and I encourage you to both go to those links and research the subject further. A few things seem particularly worth noting, though.
One is that this is yet another reason to use a password manager such as LastPass or 1Password . That in turn becomes an itemized list of your online accounts, and comes with a built-in recovery mechanism which can be used to pass them on to your survivors and/or heirs. LastPass (my password manager of choice) actually has a detailed guide to “preparing a digital will for your passwords,” and third-party guides to using 1Password for this purpose exist as well.
Another is the problem of two-factor authentication. What happens in case of an accident which also destroys your phone or Yubikey? Or if your heirs can’t get past your phone password? Do yourself and them a favor: create 2FA backup codes, and add them to your password-manager emergency-recovery kit.
The more technical you are, the more complex your digital affairs are. For most people we’re just talking about email, social media and photos. But for technical people, and in particular developers, things get more complicated. Do you own domains? Do your heirs even know you own domains, and who the registrar is? Are they technical? If not, by the time they figure that out, the domains may well have expired. Do you have services running on AWS or GCP or Digital Ocean? Do you have private GitHub repos, or public ones with a nontrivial number of stars / forks / issues / wiki pages? Do you administer a Slack workspace?
If you find yourself nodding along to the above, you may want to identify a separate “technical executor” and give them some guidance regarding what you want done with all of the above. Even if they have access, nontechnical people may not really understand that guidance. A little advance work can make it substantially easier for those tasked with taking care of your affairs.
Finally, what about any cryptocurrency you might personally hold? Generally, cryptocurrency wallets come with some sort of recovery seed. Is yours in a safety deposit box somewhere? Do your heirs know it’s in a safety deposit box somewhere? If you want to pass your bitcoins on to them, you’re probably going to have to let them know. (Obviously there is a security trade-off here; depending on how much we’re talking about, you may wish to be more or less cautious about this.)
So, to summarize: Do further research on digital wills, and construct one. Use a password manager, which acts as an itemization of your online accounts and ensure your heirs can access its emergency recovery key. Provide them 2FA backup codes as well, and recovery seeds for your cryptocurrency wallets if any. Identify a technical executor as and if appropriate. Also — and this is pretty key — make sure that a few trusted people know you’ve done all this. Won’t do them much good otherwise.
You may well even have occasion to thank yourself for it, in case of some hardware loss or disaster. Regardless, your heirs will definitely thank you. None of us think that we’ll meet our demise randomly, without warning — but I’m here to tell you, from grim recent experience, it does happen. Be prepared.