I Needed to Save My Mother’s Memories. I Hacked Her Phone.

I Needed to Save My Mother’s Memories. I Hacked Her Phone.

I Needed to Save My Mother’s Memories. I Hacked Her Phone.

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Claire Merchlinsky

Several days after my mother died in a car accident, my two sisters and I sat together in her apartment, stunned and overwhelmed. High on our horrible to-do list — along with retrieving her smashed vehicle from the tow lot, making burial plans and meeting with the rabbi — was this: getting into her cellphone.

Everything we needed to get her affairs in order was on her phone. Her contacts would tell us who to reach out to about the memorial service. Her email would tell us whether she had made plans we needed to cancel. Her finance apps would tell us whether she had been paying bills electronically. And there would be personal information, too. Her texts to family and friends. Her notepad. Her photos. The e-book she had been reading on the flight home in the hours before the accident as she left the Tulsa International Airport.

Luckily, Mom had given me the passcode to her phone only a month before. When we felt ready, I turned on her iPhone in its pink plastic case and typed in the code.


I typed in the code a second time. Again, nothing. My sisters and I looked at one another. A tightness gripped my stomach as I realized that the code Mom had given me couldn’t possibly work: That code had contained four digits, and her phone was asking for six.

Six digits means one million possible combinations, and her phone would give us only 10 tries before Apple would erase all of her data. Her old passcode had been the last four digits of the phone number at our childhood home, which ended in a zero. We decided to add two zeros to the end and were so confident that we knew how Mom’s brain worked that I paused dramatically before I tapped in the final zero, certain it would work. It did not.

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After that failure, my sisters and I treated every one of the remaining tries like some sort of nuclear access code. We made a few more attempts, none successful. With each failure, the phone made us wait longer between tries. Eventually we decided it was best to stop and find a different way in — the risk of permanently erasing everything was too great.

As a historian and biographer, I’ve made a career of reconstructing lives. To do that, you need information. The people I study and write about are entrepreneurs, innovators, famous and wealthy individuals. Their lives have been well documented in countless ways, including television interviews, newspaper and magazine articles, congressional testimony, patent records and the corporate archives of companies they founded. It’s relatively easy to reconstruct those lives, particularly if there are still friends and colleagues to help fill in the blanks.

Mom left no public record aside from a letter to the editor published in The Tulsa World. Instead, she had a dusty purple plastic bin she labeled “Memorabilia” with a Magic Marker. Inside were a prom program, a love letter from a boyfriend we had never heard of and hundreds of drawings, photos and notes from her grandchildren or us sisters as children. She had the photo albums she had made when we were little. A safe deposit box held her citizenship papers and other legal documents.

Nearly anything from the past 20 years existed only online, locked away behind passwords and firewalls. Notwithstanding the cards she made by gluing New Yorker cartoons onto cardstock, her written communications essentially stopped in the early 2000s, when she got an email account. She was a great texter, pouncing to be the first to respond in any group and embracing emojis with the passion of a preteenager. Her social media posts were politically passionate and at times head-scratchingly random.

I valued these public things, of course, but I also wanted more. We document our lives in two ways, one intended and one not. There are the emails we send, the photos we post and the comments we debate and wordsmith before hitting Return. And then there is the inadvertent record: the enraged first drafts, the unflattering selfies, the record of purchases at Amazon or Netflix, the digital sticky notes we had not meant to keep.

We work hard to curate the public self and rarely think about the shadow self. I knew from my own work, however, that off-the-cuff notes, old receipts, call logs and calendar entries can serve as proxies for feelings. A run of doctor’s appointments, a glut of calls to the same phone number that never picks up, the purchase of five types of acne cream or a self-help book — these are clues. When we are alive and artificial intelligence assembles these clues to hazard an eerily accurate prediction about our interests and future desires, we are horrified. But for a historian looking at the life of someone who has died, the same clues can lead to understanding.

As a daughter, my heart broke at the realization that digital records, along with the stories from those of us who loved Mom, were going to be the best way to be with her again, to learn from her again or to laugh again at her stupid jokes. But as a historian, my mind raced. If the only way to preserve her memories was to put together the pieces of her digital life, then we had to hack into her online accounts.

After a frantic hunt, my middle sister found a small pocket calendar in Mom’s desk. The back pages were filled with handwritten login IDs and passwords. I patted myself on the back for having insisted Mom record her passwords, and we sisters rejoiced … for about five minutes. At site after site, login page after login page, every attempt failed.

The only login and password combination that worked was for her Apple iCloud account, but she had protected it with two-factor authentication. We could see that her phone was receiving texts — texts from Apple containing the codes needed to get into her account — but we couldn’t unlock the phone, so we couldn’t see the code. I called a few high-powered techies I know from working at Stanford and living in Silicon Valley, but none of them could help. It seemed we would be locked out of everything.

Eventually I found a savior — a young employee at an Apple Store. I explained to him that I had Mom’s login ID (an email address) and the password for her Apple account, but I couldn’t override the two-factor authentication. He asked me to enter the login and password, and he grimaced when her locked phone lit up with the authentication code we could not see. Then his expression changed. “Let’s try her SIM card,” he said.

A phone’s SIM card is no bigger than the fingernail on your pinkie finger, but it is of vital importance. It gives your phone its unique identity, making it possible to associate the physical device with a specific mobile carrier and phone number. You can pop the card out of your phone by inserting a paper clip in the tiny hole you might have noticed on the side of your phone. Moving a SIM card from one phone to another is how most people move their phone number when they upgrade their devices.

The employee ejected the SIM card from Mom’s phone and put it in his own. His phone now had her phone number. We logged into Mom’s iCloud account again. This time we clicked the link that said we had not received the original two-factor passcode sent to the phone as a trusted device. We requested another be sent to her phone number. An instant later, his phone buzzed with the code. “O.K. to input this?” he asked. My heart pounded at the thought of this young stranger being with me when I peeked into Mom’s hidden digital life for the first time, but I nodded approval. He typed the code on the site.

Boom: We could see her Apple mail, her memos, her bookmarks and her photos. We had recovered a key to unlock her digital world.

At home, I put Mom’s SIM card into my husband’s phone so that it could receive texts sent to her number. Now, with her login ID and control over her phone number, I could impersonate her. At every website, I said that I forgot her password. The website tried to confirm her identity by texting a code to Mom’s registered phone number — and the code would go straight to my husband’s phone. Once I was logged in, I could then change both the password and the trusted phone number that would thereafter be associated with the account. Every time a page opened up with her name at the top, I felt a mix of elation and nausea.

It took hours, but I gained control of her email accounts, her Amazon account, her cable provider and the sites for her credit cards. We never did figure out the passcode to her phone, which means I will most likely never see the iMessages or other encrypted information. Otherwise, I now have access to almost all of her digital history.

After all that work to crack Mom’s accounts, I haven’t looked at them. It has been six months, but it’s still too soon. Looking through her digital life will mean remembering her before she was gone, back when I was a daughter with the luxury of being annoyed by her calls or texts, back before she or I understood in the visceral, never-going-back way I do now that it was all going to end. I haven’t even listened to the voice mail messages from her that I still have on my phone. I do know they almost all begin in the same way: with a pause and then her voice saying, “It’s just me.”

Leslie Berlin, a historian at Stanford, is the author, most recently, of “Troublemakers: Silicon Valley’s Coming of Age.”

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Is Your Estate Plan Out Of Date? Probably (And Facebook Is Likely To Blame)

Is Your Estate Plan Out Of Date? Probably (And Facebook Is Likely To Blame)

Is Your Estate Plan Out Of Date? Probably (And Facebook Is Likely To Blame)

Click here to view original web page at Is Your Estate Plan Out Of Date? Probably (And Facebook Is Likely To Blame)

We live in a digital world where traditional assets like photo albums, businesses, marketing materials and financial assets are moving online. Just look around – the most valuable companies in the world are technology companies that do most of their business online.

information concept, hands from monitors. pile of coins and hand with credit card . 3d illustration

Even money has been digitized through cryptocurrency developments. This digitalization of the world is challenging traditional estate planning techniques, and laws and best practices often lag behind technological advances.

Digital assets create a few unique challenges traditional physical assets do not have.

  1. digital assets can be difficult to find online as there is an endless amount of information available.
  2. accessing the assets can be challenging because most assets stored online are protected by a username and password.
  3. ownership rights of online assets are less clearly defined than traditional assets.

So perhaps the first questions to ask is this: What are digital assets and are they important?

Digital assets are not the physical devices we use to access and store information like computers and iPhones. They are the valuable information stored on those digital devices. Your e-mail account, website, software program, cryptocurrency, credit card reward points, blog posts, Facebook and online photos are all examples of digital assets. For my ten step planning checklist for digital assets click here.

Digital assets are important for three main reasons.

  1. There is real monetary value in digital assets. A study by McAfee showed that the average person worldwide had over $35,000 of digital assets and Americans had value of over $55,000 back in 2013.
  2. Many digital assets present sentimental or lifestyle benefits. Emails between family members or online photos might not have substantial financial value but do have a lot of sentimental value to heirs who would want access to the assets.
  3. Digital assets left alone after death also represent a huge risk due to post-mortem online theft or abuse. Over 70 percent of online users are concerned about identity theft or fraud when online.

I know of one family in which the husband unexpectedly died. He handled all of the couple’s finances, emails, online accounts, bill pays and even accounts with online retailers.

Once he passed away, his wife didn’t know where to go online, how to access their emails or pay bills, or how to close down any of the sites that contained contact information, bank accounts, credit cards and other personal information. In the end, services were disrupted, and bills were overdue because the couple had gone paperless and notices were only going to the email of the deceased husband.

Later on, someone hacked one of the websites and stole the couple’s information. The surviving spouse never knew until multiple new credit cards were set up in her deceased spouse’s name and bills started coming in months later.

This is a real story, and it is not an isolated incident – it’s happening to thousands of people each year because of a lack of awareness about the importance of digital asset planning and digital asset management.

So if someone says they have an estate plan in place to cover all their assets, you can rest easy knowing their digital assets are covered, right? Unfortunately, traditional estate planning techniques are inadequate to cover digital estate plans today.

First, you need to specifically track where your digital assets are online and keep track of login information. It is not as easy as just sorting through a person’s attic, drawers, garage, basement and safety deposit box to find their online accounts. One step is purely tracking and managing existing assets.

Next, you need to understand ownership rights of the digital assets. For instance, most of the ownership rights in digital assets are set when the individual agrees to the Terms of Service Agreement (TOSA) with the online service provider – you know, the agreement you scroll all the way to the bottom of and hit “I Agree” without reading anything. Unfortunately, no one reads these documents.

What does a TOSA say? Mostly, these agreements state that your online accounts cannot be transferred to anyone else upon your death, leaving these assets in a state of eternal limbo, and instead creating a non-transferable lifetime lease in the online account and service.

Another challenge for digital asset planning is that traditional wills struggle to keep track of digital assets. Because passwords change regularly and new accounts are constantly set up, in addition to the will becoming public through probate, the will is not a good place to list assets, passwords and locations of important documents and other items.

Instead, you will have to be much broader in your approach inside the will. However, there are federal laws under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and the Electronic Privacy Act that can make sharing passwords, if against the TOSA, a federal violation. So just keeping track of your accounts and passwords without checking and seeing if you have the legal authority to share them, could also be problematic.

Furthermore, laws in this area have just started to develop. Almost every state has now passed a version of the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (RUFADAA), which provides some guidance in planning for digital assets in the event of incapacity or death.

Essentially, RUFADAA provides a clearer framework for how access to digital assets will be handled. First, if the service provider allows for a beneficiary-like transfer system, that will take priority. Next, traditional legal documents would have authority, but only if they are correctly drawn up. Next, if neither of the other two are in place, you would look to the TOSA. In the event that no direction is given by anyone, it is likely you would then revert to traditional state common law and estate practices.

However, it is also important to remember that RUFADAA cannot change ownership of assets as set by the TOSAs. If you agree this is a non-transferable lifetime lease when you set up the online account, it remains a non-transferable lifetime lease. This can lead to improper ownership of assets in many cases and create serious challenges for small businesses.

Instead, RUFADAA aims at allowing access to digital assets to certain fiduciaries laid forth in legal documents or through another process. This allows fiduciaries to have access to the online accounts to manage them or close them in the event of death, disability or incompetency, but only if the owner affirmatively gave the fiduciary this management control in the applicable trust agreement, will or power of attorney document.

Essentially, fiduciary access to digital assets will be treated as a “hot power,” meaning that you must specifically grant the fiduciary access to “digital assets.” Just saying your fiduciary has access to all your assets won’t work! This also means most existing wills, trusts, and powers of attorney are out of date and you should update them immediately to include current digital asset language.

While almost every existing estate planning document needs to be updated, just updating documents is not enough either. Digital asset planning also requires planning as to which accounts you want memorialized, continued, or deleted and what information you want preserved or removed. In some cases, new accounts will need to be set up or assets moved from one spouse to another or from an individual to a company. True digital asset planning will be part risk management and part ownership review.

Attorneys also need to discuss digital asset management and planning with clients. With small businesses, even a brief delay in access to their online accounts could be devastating. You also want to ensure that the client has a process for tracking their online accounts, keeping usernames and passwords safe, and, if desired, provide insight into how they want their accounts managed in the event of incapacity or death. The client might want some accounts destroyed or deleted and other accounts passed on to someone else.

Digital assets are growing in value and need to be part of your practice. Find out how your state is handling these assets, update your documents and discuss these digital assets with clients, especially those clients with small businesses.

Why you should have a digital will

Why you should have a digital will

You may have decided who gets the house in your last will and testament, but who’s going to wrap up your digital life – from online photo albums to your bitcoin wallet? That’s where the digital will comes in.

By Sonakshi Babbar

Pop culture is obsessed with death. From Netflix zombie series Santa Clarita Diet to an apocalypse in practically every Marvel movie, it seems we can’t get enough of it – from a safe distance, that is.

We don’t like death so much when it applies to ourselves. It’s a topic to politely avoid, and preparation for death is a chore many people leave until it’s too late – leading to feuding children, estate disputes and distraught partners.

Now there’s an extra layer of difficulty to dying. Many of our family heirlooms, mementos and assets are digital. For starters, consider your social media profiles on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter; email on Gmail or Outlook; photos and journals on Dropbox or Google Drive; entertainment on Netflix and iTunes; and money in online bank accounts and in cryptocurrency digital wallets.

Researchers at the University of Melbourne have found that few Australians systematically download and store their online content in a format accessible to others after their death, meaning a great deal of the content may be lost to family and friends.

Digital accounts are protected by online privacy laws and terms of service, and these have been interpreted differently in various legal cases. In Germany, parents of a 15-year-old girl who died in a train accident were refused access to her Facebook account. However, in another case, the father of a deceased soldier was given access to his Yahoo email, with the court overriding Yahoo’s privacy policies.

How do we bequeath and divide our digital assets? Does your partner have access to your photos on Facebook to remember you by? Most importantly, what happens to our digital accounts after we die? This is where digital wills are important.

What is a digital will?

A digital will is a document that instructs loved ones on how to manage your digital presence and assets after you’re gone.

State Trustees Victoria recommends preparing a digital register, which is a record of accounts, usernames, passwords and requests for closure of online accounts as outlined in an Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) report titled Death and the Internet. The register may accompany your last will and testament, although the laws around it are still not clear.

The same goes for rules around inheritance of digital assets. Rosemary Caruso, partner, wills and estates at Tindall Gask Bentley Lawyers, says they’re as diverse as the internet itself. The obvious solution would be to add an appendix or a register of your digital assets to your standard will. However, Caruso recommends making the digital will a separate, formal document – signed and duly witnessed.

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In terms of what goes into the digital will, it is important to understand what you own, what you license, and whether your digital rights outlive you.

“Each digital asset will usually have its own ownership structure and end user licence agreement [EULA], and the answer may differ for each asset,” Caruso explains.

“One big question is whether you actually own the asset – it might just be a licence during your lifetime, which is not transferable after death.”

Addressing the issue of what to add to the register, Caruso advises listing all your online accounts without passwords, because sharing passwords is prohibited by most organisations. However, you could store digital accounts and passwords in encrypted password management software, accessible by a nominated person only upon your death.

Online platforms such as Everplans and Cake offer people an opportunity to store information and plan what happens to their digital assets after death. Similarly, DigiPulse allows digital wallet users to control who inherits their cryptocurrency assets, which can be a valuable service for investors in bitcoin and other digital currencies.

Is there a social media afterlife?

According to the ACCAN report, 69 per cent of Australians are active social media users, but very few know what happens to their social media profiles after they are gone. They are programmed to live forever. In fact, as of 2014, there were 30 million such profiles still on Facebook alone.

Unfortunately, if left unmonitored, social media profiles of people who have passed away are open to identity theft, trolling and data fraud by hackers.

Most social media platforms do provide options to control what happens to accounts after death. Facebook allows a person to nominate a legacy contact who can look after your account, without having actual account access or posting as you. Alternatively, a family member or friend can submit a request for the deceased person’s profile to be memorialised or closed.

Each social platform and online service provider has its own policy for account closures in the event of death. Simple digital legacy planning can protect your privacy, and remove the burden from your loved ones.

Plan your digital legacy

Google: You can add up to 10 trusted contacts, who will receive an email that bequeaths files stored on a Google service if your account is left unattended between three and 18 months.

Facebook: You may nominate a legacy contact to manage your profile after your death. This could be memorialising the page, or closing it.

Instagram: Provides an option to memorialise an account, which means nobody can log in or change it. To memorialise an account, anyone can provide a link to an obituary or news article reporting the death. You can also request account closure.

Twitter: The only option is to deactivate the profile by submitting a form with information on the deceased, including a death certificate.

LinkedIn: Executors, colleagues or friends of the deceased can notify LinkedIn that someone has passed away, so their account can be closed and the profile removed.

iTunes: Music files, television series and films are licensed, rather than owned, and cannot be bequeathed.

Protect Digital Assets After Your Death

Protect Digital Assets After Your Death

Let’s face it: Your e-mail account, Facebook page and online photo albums are likely to outlive you. Deciding how to manage your digital legacy just may be your trickiest estate-planning task.

As people increasingly live—and die—online, family members and estate executors are left to sift through e-mail messages, Facebook status updates, blog posts, tweets and other digital remains that may have significant financial or personal value. And even if they have all the required passwords, many heirs will find they have no clear authority to access or manage the online accounts of the deceased. A confusing and sometimes contradictory snarl of online user agreements and state and federal laws can restrict Internet users’ ability to transfer their online accounts to loved ones after their death and prevent families from retrieving information stored in the digital realm.

Despite the devilish details, it’s essential to include online accounts in the estate-planning process. Failure to plan ahead may prevent loved ones from recovering family photos or videos or settling your final bills. It also could leave your estate vulnerable to post-mortem identity theft, if fraudsters decide to apply for credit cards in your name while nobody’s watching your accounts.

What’s more, a library of digital music or an Internet domain name that you own may have financial value that’s significant to your estate. The domain name HotelsGuide.com, for example, recently sold for $60,000, according to domain-name marketplace Sedo. “We shouldn’t dismiss our digital assets as insignificant or unimportant,” says Evan Carroll, co-author of Your Digital Afterlife (New Riders, $25). “The things that may seem ephemeral to us are very valuable to heirs once we’re gone.”

The value of these assets can go far beyond the financial worth in the wake of a loved one’s death. After her brother died in 2011, Melinda Miller quickly had his Facebook account “memorialized,” meaning friends can still post messages on his page, but no one can log in to the account. “That first six months, I didn’t know if my parents were going to recover” from the loss, says Miller, 41, an elementary school principal in Springfield, Mo. But as friends have continued to post photos, songs and holiday greetings on her brother’s page, “it’s very comforting to the family to see the messages continue,” she says. “It’s like a memory wall.”

The first step for seniors starting to navigate this new world of digital estate planning is to recognize the obstacles they face. Each online service provider has its own terms of service—the legal mumbo-jumbo you click through when you open your account—and those terms often say that you can’t transfer your account or hand off your password to anyone else. Those restrictions pose a challenge for heirs who might want to access your e-mail account, for example, to retrieve bills and other documents.

Providers differ on how they handle the accounts of deceased users, but some are starting to help users plan their digital afterlife. The Yahoo terms of service, for example, say that “any rights to your Yahoo! ID or contents within your account terminate upon your death,” and accounts may be deleted if a death certificate is submitted. Google in April introduced a new feature allowing users to specify that after a certain period of inactivity their account data should be deleted or passed along to specific individuals. At Facebook, relatives may be able to request the contents of the account—a lengthy process involving a court order—or ask that the page be deleted.

Federal laws present another hurdle. If you use your late mother’s password to log on to her account, you may violate not only the provider’s terms of service but also the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which governs certain unauthorized access to computers. And a federal privacy law, the Stored Communications Act, can limit providers’ ability to share deceased users’ account contents with relatives.

A handful of states, meanwhile, have passed laws attempting to clarify executors’ power to manage a deceased person’s digital assets. But given the variations in the state laws, federal laws and technology companies’ terms of service, some legal experts say such legislation has done little to remedy the confusion. “It is a very unsettled area” of law, says Gerry Beyer, law professor at Texas Tech University. The Uniform Law Commission, which helps standardize state laws across the U.S. by drafting model legislation, currently has a committee working on the issue.

Some accounts that you access online don’t pose much of an estate-planning challenge. Because financial institutions have clear procedures for handling an account holder’s death, it’s relatively straightforward for executors to arrange for the transfer of assets to beneficiaries, estate planners say.

Protecting Your Digital Afterlife

Although many other online accounts remain in a legal fog, seniors who take a few simple steps now can greatly increase the odds that their online afterlife will be handled according to their wishes.

First, take inventory of all your online accounts, including e-mail, social networks, blogging sites, photo-sharing sites, frequent-flier accounts, shopping sites such as Amazon.com, credit card accounts, and online bill-payment accounts, such as those established with utilities. For each account, list log-in and password information as well as answers to “secret” questions.

The security of such a list is a critical question. One solution: Use a password-management system such as LastPass.com or 1Password (www.agilebits.com). These services will encrypt your log-in and password information and keep it stored on your own computer. You’ll have a master password to unlock the data, so it’s easy to retrieve and update password information. Another option: Save the list in a password-protected document on your computer. Don’t put any password information in your will, which becomes a public document.

When you’ve completed your inventory, write down where you’ve stored the information and the master password needed to access it. Put that information in your safe deposit box or in your attorney’s vault. Seniors creating a power of attorney document should also include specific language authorizing their agents to deal with their digital assets, Beyer says.

Next, consider signing a statement, which can be drafted by an estate-planning lawyer, authorizing the companies that hold your online information to disclose that information to your executor or other representative, says James Lamm, estate-planning attorney at Gray Plant Mooty, in Minneapolis. The authorization may be included in your will. That way, your executor can request a copy of the contents of your online accounts, rather than trying to access the account directly—and possibly running afoul of the terms of service or federal law, Lamm says. “That should work, but I can’t guarantee it,” he says. “That’s as good as we can get under current law.”

Seniors may be able to avoid sticky legal questions by downloading their online account information to a home computer. Some tech companies are making this process easier. Facebook, for example, allows users to get a copy of all of their correspondence with friends, photos and other account content in a single download. A service called Backupify (www.backupify.com) will also help download content from Gmail, Facebook, Twitter and other personal accounts.

A cottage industry of online data-management companies has begun selling services that claim to transfer your digital assets to your beneficiaries. One such service is offered by SecureSafe, launched in 2009 by Zurich-based online storage company DSwiss. It has already signed up more than 300,000 individuals and is adding roughly 10,000 new customers a week, says spokesman Andreas Jacob. But legal experts say such services don’t resolve the potential conflicts with online providers’ terms of service or federal laws. SecureSafe’s terms of service say that users must comply with the laws of their own country, Jacob says.

Even when family members have shared all their passwords with each other, managing online accounts can be difficult. Karen Marcus, 39, of Richmond, Va., had all of her husband’s passwords when he died in 2010, but she didn’t have all of the log-in IDs he used for online bill payments. She tried to convert the online bills back to paper statements, which wasn’t an easy process. Her electricity was turned off, she says, after the power company was slow to send her the paper bill that she had requested. But when dealing with such a loss, she says, “you don’t know what day it is, what time it is. And you want to make things as simple, as tactile, as possible.”

Digital Estate Planning Part 2: Taking Inventory

Digital Estate Planning Part 2: Taking Inventory

The first part of any estate plan is to take inventory. Things like filing cabinets, photo albums, boxes of memorable nick-nacks, and safes make most of our tangible estate easy to find. Even when filing cabinets and safes are locked there is usually a key somewhere.

Conversely, it can be difficult for surviving relatives to locate or access digital accounts or files that are scattered across several computers, folders, and backup devices.

Many of us have an old computer collecting dust in a closet somewhere that may still contain photos, videos, music, important financial documents, or other digital assets.

To make this process easier on your survivors, digital estate planning begins with making a list of all your digital assets:

Hardware: Include your computers, tablets, iPods, laptops, flash drives, external hard drives, or any other device that contains digital files that are of importance to you. It is also helpful to include a brief summary of what each device contains.

Software: If you used any financial programs like Quickbooks, Quicken, or other tax programs that contain important information include them in the digital assets list.

Subscriptions: Many people rely entirely on web accounts for the management of subscriptions to phone, television, internet, finance and other services.

Social Media Accounts: Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Blogspot, Google+, or any other forums or profiles where you have an online presence.

Shopping Accounts: Shopping websites make it easy to create an account and in many cases people opt for no longer be receiving paper statements. Without a paper trail it is difficult for your heirs to locate these accounts.

Email Accounts:Most people have more than one email address. Each account may have a different set of digital assets. It is important to include an overview of what each email account contains and if there are any important emails to keep.

Work:Make a list of collaboration sites, client sites, Dropbox accounts, databases or other file sharing programs.

Medical/Financial:List any sites that include you confidential medical or financial information. Banks, investment accounts, 401K statement sites, insurance, government assistance sites, automatic prescription refill and any other website that contains sensitive information.

Once you have made a list of the assets in your digital estate, print the document and keep it somewhere safe, yet accessible to your friends or family in the event of your sudden demise, with a copy to your estate planning attorney.

Digital Estate Planning Part 1: Taking the First Bytes

Digital Estate Planning Part 3: Passwords and Instructions