5 tips for digital estate planning

5 tips for digital estate planning

Most clients have made plans to dispose of their tangible property after they’ve gone. But these days, people have an awful lot of intangible property to deal with as well.

No one is too worried about what’s going to happen to their Twitter account, but there are some significant financial issues that should be considered when it comes to a client’s digital footprint. Many advisors have even gone so far as to set up digital estate plans for their more wired clients.

Clients considering a digital estate plan should focus on their financial life online, which for many of us has grown into a many tentacled beast. Here are some things to keep in mind:

Clients should maintain a list of all the financial sites they access. Some of these are obvious, like bank and brokerage accounts, credit cards, mortgage accounts, loans, utility bills and other online payments. Others are less obvious, such as accounts at places like Amazon, eBay and iTunes. There are also online payment accounts, such as PayPal, that should be noted.

The deposit accounts, which may seem like the most serious concern, are probably the least of the client’s worries. The money in those accounts will be accounted for in the client’s will, and banks and brokerages are used to dealing with customers who pass away.

Other accounts may require more attention. The client may have money in a PayPal account or may have debts to be paid because of eBay purchases. There may be transferable benefits from a frequent-flyer account. These aren’t likely to be significant amounts of money, but they still ought to be accounted for.

The client should name a “digital executor.” This is the person empowered to deal with all the client’s digital assets, and he or she should have access to the list of online accounts, including all passwords and directions. There’s no legal status for this person, but it should be someone whom the client trusts and who has a facility with online maneuvering. (A grandchild might be a good choice.)

See also: How to use old-fashioned selling methods in a new media age

Google, which is generally ahead of the curve, has created a program that can be of help in this area. Google’s Inactive Account Manager allows the client to name an heir of sorts who can gain access to the client’s online data once his or her accounts have been inactive for a certain period of time.

Are there digital heirlooms worth preserving? Aside from the financial considerations, most of us live a good deal of our personal lives online. It’s worth your clients’ time to consider how much of this should be curated after they’re gone. Perhaps the have a personal or company website they’d like to see continued. Perhaps they have a blog they’d rather see shut down than persist into eternity. Maybe they have accumulated photos on Facebook or Instagram that they’d like to see put into the hands of the proper persons before they disappear into the ether. Most clients haven’t thought about this issue and would likely appreciate their advisor’s concern, even if they do absolutely nothing about it.

Find a safe place to put all this information. Security is of prime concern here, since identity theft could be a real problem if all the information fell into the wrong hands. A printed copy of all passwords and other data, kept in a safe or other secure place, could be one option.

There are online solutions as well. Legacy Locker stores all your information in the cloud and requires the client to name two separate people to contact in case of death. (They even have to provide a copy of the death certificate.) That prevents anyone from trying to claim the client has died in order to get to their data. Legacy Locker also lets the client name different beneficiaries for different online accounts. A similar offering, Secure Safe, is from Switzerland — and the Swiss know their way around secure accounts.

A different type of security is provided by Javont Vault, which doesn’t connect to the Internet at all but simply sits on your home PC. That keeps hackers and other breaches to a minimum. The client’s digital executor would be the only other person granted access to the account.

Finally, put a plan in writing. No one is going to go digging around the decedent’s computer looking for postmortem instructions. Make sure their wishes are clear and easily findable. When it comes to one’s online legacy, it can’t all be done online.

Texts from the dead: Post-mortem digital communication has arrived

Template of a Digital Property Provision for a Will

(template)  Generally the following provision will be inserted as a subparagraph in the Powers of Personal Representative (Executor) Section of the Will, and may be modified to be used with Trust Agreements.

Power With Regard to Digital and other Intangible Property.

In the event that at the time of my death I owned an interest in any form of electronic, digital or intangible assets (including but not limited to leaseholds, licenses, contractual rights, computing devices, data storage devices, a domain names, user accounts, email accounts, digital pictures, digital music, or any other form of electronically stored information (collectively, “Digital Assets”)), whether included in my probate estate or not, then in addition to any other powers described in this Section or provided for under applicable law, the powers granted to the Personal Representative of my estate shall include, but not be limited to, the following:

(1)   the power to obtain copies of any electronically stored information of mine from any person or entity that possesses, custodies, or controls that information, including but not limited to entities that may be subject to the Stored Communications Act under or similar state laws that may then be in effect;

(2)   power to decrypt any encrypted electronically stored information of mine or to bypass, reset, or recover any passwords or other kind of authentication or authorization necessary to gain access to access the Digital Assets;

(3)   the power to waive any confidentiality that I may have had under any Terms of Service Agreement or Privacy Policy that I had previously agreed to in regards to any Digital Asset, to the extent allowable under such Terms of Service or Privacy Policy;

(4)   all other powers that an absolute owner of a Digital Asset would have, and any other powers appropriate to achieve the proper investment, management, and distribution of my Digital Assets, including the power to employ any consultants or agents to advise or assist the Personal Representative in exercising the powers listed above.

In furtherance of such powers of personal representative, I hereby authorize, to the extent permitted by federal and state law, including the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of1986 (which includes the Stored Communications Act), as amended, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986, as amended, any person or entity that possesses, custodies, or controls any electronically stored information of mine or that provides to me an electronic communication service or remote computing service, whether public or private, to divulge to the Personal Representative: (1) any electronically stored information of mine; (2) the contents of any communication that is in electronic storage by that service or that is carried or maintained on that service; and (3) any record or other information pertaining to me with respect to that service. This authorization is to be construed to be my lawful consent under the Stored Communications Act, as amended, and any other applicable federal or state data privacy law or criminal law. The terms used in this paragraph are to be construed as broadly as possible, and the term “user account” includes without limitation an established relationship between a user and a computing device or between a user and a provider of Internet or other network access, electronic communication services, or remote computing services, whether public or private.

Template of Digital Property Provision for a Power of Attorney

(template)  Generally the following provision will be inserted as a subparagraph in the section of a Power of Attorney which explicitly enumerates the powers granted to a Attorney in Fact.

Power With Regard to Digital and other Intangible Property.

In the event that I own an interest in any form of electronic, digital or intangible assets (including but not limited to leaseholds, licenses, contractual rights, computing devices, data storage devices, a domain names, user accounts, email accounts, digital pictures, digital music, or any other form of electronically stored information (collectively, “Digital Assets”)), then in addition to any other powers granted to my Attorney in Fact under this Durable Power of Attorney, or which may otherwise be provided for under applicable law, my Attorney in Fact shall have the following powers:

(1)   the power to obtain copies of any electronically stored information of mine from any person or entity that possesses, custodies, or controls that information, including but not limited to entities that may be subject to the Stored Communications Act under or similar state laws that may then be in effect;

(2)   power to decrypt any encrypted electronically stored information of mine or to bypass, reset, or recover any passwords or other kind of authentication or authorization necessary to gain access to access the Digital Assets;

(3)   the power to waive any confidentiality that I may have had under any Terms of Service Agreement or Privacy Policy that I had previously agreed to in regards to any Digital Asset, to the extent allowable under such Terms of Service or Privacy Policy;

(4)   all other powers that an absolute owner of a Digital Asset would have, and any other powers appropriate to achieve the proper investment, management, and distribution of my Digital Assets, including the power to employ any consultants or agents to advise or assist the Attorney in Fact in exercising the powers listed above.

In furtherance of such powers which are granted to the Attorney In Fact above, I hereby authorize, to the extent permitted by federal and state law, including the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of1986 (which includes the Stored Communications Act), as amended, and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986, as amended, any person or entity that possesses, custodies, or controls any electronically stored information of mine or that provides to me an electronic communication service or remote computing service, whether public or private, to divulge to my Attorney in Fact (1) any electronically stored information of mine; (2) the contents of any communication that is in electronic storage by that service or that is carried or maintained on that service; and (3) any record or other information pertaining to me with respect to that service. This authorization is to be construed to be my lawful consent under the Stored Communications Act, as amended, and any other applicable federal or state data privacy law or criminal law. The terms used in this paragraph are to be construed as broadly as possible, and the term “user account” includes without limitation an established relationship between a user and a computing device or between a user and a provider of Internet or other network access, electronic communication services, or remote computing services, whether public or private.