Let’s face it: your Email account, Facebook page and digital photo albums are all going to outlive you. You must make decisions for how your online legacy will be managed after your death, just like you would for your home or financial assets.
Your digital assets are valuable
Your digital assets can have monetary value, just as your homes and cars do. Digital music libraries and Internet domain names you may own can often be sources of wealth. According to Sedo, a domain name retailer, the domain name HotelsGuide.com recently sold for $60,000. It would be a mistake for you to assume that your digital assets are immaterial to your overall estate. Digital assets that seem trivial to you may in fact be extremely valuable to your heirs.
A digital estate plan can also preserve online content that will have sentimental value to your family once you die. Facebook’s “memorialization” feature is a prime example of this. When you die your family can request that your Facebook account be “memorialized.” This means that your online friends can still leave comments, pictures and videos, but no one is allowed to log into the account. This comforting stream of posts creates a way for your friends, family and co-workers to remember you during the holidays or on your birthday.
The importance of creating a digital estate plan
You are likely the only person who knows the contents of your online accounts. When you die, these unmonitored accounts will continue to hold sensitive information, such as your credit card number. This can put your estate at risk for digital identity theft when you die because con artists will use these unwatched accounts to glean your personal information. The information can then be used to fraudulently open credit cards in your name and make purchases.
A digital estate plan gives your heirs or executor the legal ability to access valuable photos, videos and banking information. This plan is necessary because giving someone your username and password does not legally authorize them to access or manage your online accounts when you die. For example, if your deceased husband has an Amazon account, which contains his credit card information, it is technically illegal for you to use his username and password to log into his account and remove that sensitive data. In an attempt to curb identity theft, a mix of online user agreements and state and federal laws have made it illegal for anyone but the account holder to access information they have stored in the digital realm. These changes have severely restricted a family’s ability to access, manage and protect a deceased individual’s digital information. Your digital estate plan works as a way to navigate around this complex web of user agreements and laws.
What to include in your digital estate plan
An inventory of your online accounts.
You should create a master list of every website you use, and your user name, password and security question for each website. Include everything: email accounts, social media websites, your blog, photo sharing websites, online shopping websites (such as Amazon), credit card accounts, and online bill paying websites.
Several companies have created software that makes this task easier. Lastpass.com and 1Password are password-management programs that encrypt all of your username and password information, and then store it on your computer. You can give the Executor of your estate a master password for the program so that they can easily retrieve the data.
Appoint someone to manage your online accounts.
In your will (or trust) you can grant the executor of your estate the legal ability to manage and close your online accounts, and to remove valuable information from the accounts when you die. This expressed grant of power lends credibility to the executor when they reach out to companies in an attempt to manage your digital assets. For example, Amazon.com has a very complex user agreement that does not clearly state what your executor is entitled to do to your account once you die. Amazon ends the user agreement by stating “for communications concerning this Agreement, please contact Amazon by email.” If your executor did need to reach out to Amazon to request that credit card information be removed, the company is more inclined to work with them if Amazon is positive that you granted your executor that power.
Proactively reach out to companies
Finally, you and an estate-planning attorney can draft a letter authorizing companies that hold your online information to release it to the executor of your estate. As previously discussed, online user agreements and state and federal law have made it illegal for your executor to access your accounts directly. This letter expressly allows the company to release the contents of your account to your executor. This can help to alleviate the company’s fears about being sued for releasing such information, thus making them more likely to work with your estate representatives.
Help heirs find your paperless accounts after your death
As we spend more of our lives online — banking, collecting credit card rewards points, playing virtual reality games, creating photo albums, emailing, tweeting — it’s increasingly important to consider how beneficiaries can access those accounts and any assets they hold, once we’re gone.
“It used to be when someone passed away, there were all these clues — a paper trail around the house about what the deceased person owned and owed,” says Karin C. Prangley, an estate attorney at Krasnow Saunders Kaplan & Beninati in Chicago. “Now there is no more paper trail. All of that is digital. It’s a big deal because it’s hard to get at that digital information.”
Ignorance can be costly. “If you can’t get into this person’s email account, if you have no idea where this person banks … the [deceased] person may have a million dollar account at Fidelity, but you just don’t know, says Prangley. “Maybe the person had an insurance policy, maybe the person had an online store selling a specialized product, maybe there was some sort of business you as the heir don’t know about. The money goes right to the grave.”
Not having access to the deceased’s online accounts or email alerts could mean that bills normally paid online go unpaid. Since the estate is responsible for existing debt, missing those payments could cause headaches as you straighten out the problem, says Deborah L. Jacobs, author of “Estate Planning Smarts.” “If you don’t find credit card accounts quickly and bill paying is delayed and finance charges are assessed, you can most likely get the credit card companies to forgive the finance charges,” Jacobs says. “But you may have to fight them.”
The opposite situation is also a problem. Recurring bills that are on auto-pay may continue to be paid even after the product or service is no longer needed. “We’ve seen instances where someone has been dead for years and they’re still paying for The Economist online,” says Jacobs.
Finding financial accounts
Without a list of financial accounts, finding them can be tricky, but there are steps you can take. The easiest: check the person’s wallet, pocket, desk and drawers for the receipts, Jacobs says. “Even if you’re doing almost everything online, those receipts may be in their pockets.”
To find open accounts, such as credit cards that aren’t regularly being used and generating receipts or bills, you can get a copy of the deceased person’s credit report from one or all of the three consumer credit reporting agencies, TransUnion, Experian and Equifax. But you’ll need documentation, agency representatives say.
For example, all three require a copy of the death certificate and proof that you have power of attorney or are executor of the estate.
In addition to banking and investment accounts, many people access their airline, hotel and other rewards programs online, says Glenn C. Williamson, CEO and founder of WebCease Inc. in Portland, Ore., which helps heirs track down those digital assets. “I personally have half a million Hyatt points, valued at $35,000 to $45,000,” Williamson says.
… Maybe there was some sort of business you as the heir don’t know about. The money goes right to the grave.
— Karin C. Prangley
Estate planning attorney
The potential dollar loss goes beyond financial accounts and rewards programs to items you may not think of immediately, Prangley says. “What’s the cost of losing a lifetime of photos? What happens to unique weapons held by a World of Warcraft master? What about wins in offshore, online poker accounts?”
North American respondents to a survey by security giant McAfee valued their digital assets at an average of $54,722 with listed assets including music downloads, photos, emails, financial and health records, career information and contacts, and hobbies and creative projects.
Even a great-grandfather may have digital assets if he’s been online, says Williamson. “We did one 91-year-old guy who didn’t even have an email address and he had hotel points,” he says. Another man in his 80s had a separate Facebook account for selling RVs — news to his family, Williamson says.
Finding assets online can be time-consuming. First, heirs have to know an account exists. Second, they have to be able to gain access to that account via usernames and passwords.
“People are grieving,” says Jacobs, the author. “This is adding an extra hardship.”
Williamson estimates it took him 25 hours to find his mother’s online accounts after she passed away, which gave him the idea for WebCease. WebCease routinely searches about 60 nonfinancial online accounts, including photography sites such as Flickr, hotel and airline rewards programs, social media sites and e-commerce sites including Amazon, PayPal, Netflix and eBay.
WebCease researchers will personalize the search and look for additional accounts when necessary, Williamson says. For instance, in the case of the RV enthusiast, they searched various campground websites to see if the deceased had a membership with valuable rewards or resale potential. “We wouldn’t typically search on those, but when my researchers make a correlation they will go further than our standard list.”
WebCease lets its clients know what it finds, and then gives them each site’s policies and information on how to transfer the digital assets and how to shut down the account, Williamson says.
Rescuing vital records
Passwords are the next hurdle. Even if you as the executor or heir have written permission from the deceased account holder to access accounts, without the proper passwords, online providers may not give you the content, says Hazel Sanchez, estate planning attorney at the Law Offices of Rhonda H. Brink in Austin, Texas.
Some online providers, if they were to find out the account holder is deceased, would simply close the account and delete all the information on it.
— Hazel Sanchez
Estate planning attorney
“Each one has different procedures,” says Sanchez. “Some online providers, if they were to find out the account holder is deceased, would simply close the account and delete all the information on it.”
Sanchez recommends that if you do have access to usernames and passwords, you print out hard copies of financial information so that even if the accounts are later deleted, you’ll have the information you need.
Technically in these cases, you could be liable for unlawful access of data, but it’s not likely an heir would be prosecuted. “They talk about liability of unauthorized access, but nobody ever enforces it,” Sanchez says. “It’s more important for the fiduciary to gain control of assets and prevent deletion of information before anything happens.”
Sanchez says a little pre-emptive action can prevent any problems related to unauthorized access. “We recommend will provisions that give the executor authority to access the deceased’s digital assets and accounts,” she says.
Shutting down fraud
Eventually, though, you’ll want to make sure you close accounts for security reasons. The identities of nearly 2.5 million people are misused every year to apply for credit, according to a 2012 study by ID Analytics.
“You don’t want mom’s profile out there,” says WebCease’s Williamson. “When you die, it’s public record. It’s so much easier to steal a deceased person’s identity.”
When you die, it’s public record. It’s so much easier to steal a deceased person’s identity.
— Glenn C. Williamson
CEO and founder of WebCease
To prevent fraud and identity theft, notify credit card companies and other lenders that the person has died, says Maxine Sweet, president of public education at Experian. “They will report the deceased status to the credit reporting companies and it will automatically become part of the file, preventing fraud,” she says. “If the deceased was receiving Social Security benefits, the Social Security Administration also should be notified and [SSA] will also report that information to us.”
Even if you’re not looking for open accounts, you still should contact the credit reporting agencies with a copy of the death certificate, so the credit file can be updated, says Clifton O’Neal, vice president of corporate communications at TransUnion.
You may also want to contact the Direct Marketing Association to have the deceased removed from marketing mailing lists, Sweet says. “Having those arrive in the mail can be painful for the relatives,” she says.
Planning your digital afterlife
You can prevent many of these hassles for your own heirs by making preparations now. A few simple measures can lessen or eliminate the need for your loved ones to become online sleuths after you’re gone.
Keep a snail mail trail
Even if you do business mostly online, elect to receive some paper statements so your heirs will find out about your accounts from mail delivery, says Jacobs, the author. “Even though I favor cutting down on the paper in our lives, this is not the place to do it,” she says.
Consolidate your accounts
Combining financial accounts or at least moving assets to a small number of providers makes them easier to keep track of, Jacobs says. “I know of a number of elderly people who have certificates of deposit at 50 different banks,” Jacobs says.
Finding the records could be sheer luck. Jacobs and her husband went to one bank her mother-in-law used to cash in one of her CDs and the bank officer told the couple she had a second CD that they hadn’t known about.
List account information
Make a list of accounts with the name of the financial institution, account number and how it’s titled and put it in a folder if you’re comfortable having that information at your house, Jacobs says.
If not, make one list of user IDs and a separate list of passwords, Sanchez suggests. Give each list to a different person and tell your executor those people’s names so the two lists can be put together when you pass away, she says.
She acknowledges that keeping the list up to date could be time-consuming, but says it’s necessary. “We think it’s very important for everybody to make a list inventory of what they have,” Sanchez says.
Name an online executor
As you make that list of user names and passwords, consider naming an online executor, who could be separate from your overall estate executor, says Prangley, the estate attorney. An online executor would identify and provide information to your family about your online accounts and digital assets and they could sell what might be useful to others, she says. Further, the online executor could delete any emails or other online communication that might hurt your family members, she says.
“Some people have separate online lives,” she says. “Your executor might delete your online flirting.”
Am industry has cropped up to cater to today’s digital estate planning needs. For example, Eterniam, founded in 2013, preserves all your digital assets — photos, videos, documents and content from social media sites. You can bequeath each asset to chosen beneficiaries.
When making use of for jobs and internships, there’s typically a mad sprint to detox one’s Twitter and Facebook pages. It simply wouldn’t do for a possible employer to look you up and be greeted by a duck-face selfie or an inane touch upon the intercourse attraction of a sure celeb.
It’s much more jarring whenever you realise that these odds and ends, generally embarrassing, principally insignificant – even to you, once you look again a lot later – are how we depart our mark on the world.
‘The needlessly flippant feedback I’ve left beneath information articles may very well be the largest mark I depart on civilisation.’
So remarks the author of this Guardian article on the permanence of the Internet these days, the place births and marriages are introduced on Facebook, rites of passage immortalized in on-line picture albums, and our digital imprints stay on all the pieces – from our Amazon account to our browser historical past.
It looks as if digital historical past shall be our technology’s fossils, left behind lengthy after we’re gone. Tweet Share
Of course, such issues are erasable, however until somebody sits and deletes each remark, Tweet and transaction they’ve ever made, it looks as if digital historical past will likely be our technology’s fossils, left behind lengthy after we’re gone. Writers depart their mark within the type of their phrases, politicians survive in historical past books, musicians are immortalised of their songs, whereas the remainder of us, nameless or irrelevant as we is likely to be, dwell on so long as the Internet does.
The above article addresses the startling chance that our final phrases won’t be a number of murmured goodbyes on a deathbed, however the very last thing we posted on the Internet. Maybe not a lot for the common particular person, however when a celeb dies, the very first thing journalists have a tendency to tug up is their final Tweet, adopted by the Twitter reactions of fellow celebrities. For occasion, when Peaches Geldof died, her final submit, which was an image of herself along with her deceased mom, went viral.
We reached a degree the place the Law Society is even urging individuals to incorporate directions for a digital legacy of their final will and testomony:
People ought to depart clear directions about what ought to occur to their social media, pc video games and different on-line accounts after their dying. Having an inventory of all of your on-line accounts, resembling e mail, banking, investments and social networking websites will make it simpler for relations to piece collectively your digital legacy, adhere to your needs and will save money and time.
It sounds virtually foolish to have to say your Facebook account in your will alongside property, wealth and shares. But as of late, a whole lot of issues are digitalised that will have existed in bodily kind in earlier generations. Treasured household images saved on a pc fairly than a dusty picture album is likely to be misplaced to grieving family members. There’s additionally the better threat of mental property being misplaced or stolen, particularly since lots of writers and teachers are likely to publish their work on-line.
This raises the larger query of how dependable it’s to digitalise our lives. Because as everlasting because the Internet is, it’s additionally equally and paradoxically weak. There’s much less of an opportunity of your grandmother’s outdated love letters from World War II being broadcast all through the household gossip community than there may be your saucy emails.
What occurs to your digital assets if you’re now not round to handle them?
Left with out a recreation plan, a lifetime’s price of online information and accounts turns into inaccessible, creating unimaginable stress for already bereaved household and family members who’re
Email accounts, digital purchases,
financial institution and brokerage accounts, social networking profiles and picture sharing are seamlessly built-in into our on a regular basis lives. However, these digital assets, which might maintain each sentimental and financial worth, usually go unaddressed in estate planning.
Bank, brokerage, PayPal, eBay, bitcoin accounts and the like are all linked to our monetary profile. Digital music libraries and picture albums could not translate to a greenback quantity, however actually are precious, nonetheless.
Consider this: If all of your accounts have been worn out, if each side of your online presence was deleted, what would that imply to you at present? My guess is that it might be crippling at worst, hectic at finest.
Though usually ignored, having your digital assets documented and arranged is a important a part of estate planning. That’s why it’s key to begin fascinated by and planning the method of organizing digital assets.
As a monetary advisor, I’ve discovered that there is no such thing as a one answer for everybody. Creating a plan for digital assets will depend on the person and may take note of each the character of the assets in addition to the individual’s sensitivity to privateness. Based on my expertise, I would counsel the next framework to get your digital assets ready:
Identify and stock: Make a checklist of your online accounts, memberships and subscriptions. One of the simplest strategies I’ve seen is to create a password-protected Excel spreadsheet utilizing these headings: description, Web handle, person identification, password, account quantity and particular notes. Of course, compiling this record creates danger in and of itself, so take safety into consideration.
Appoint a “trustee”: Choosing somebody to entrust with this entry will be a troublesome determination. This particular person may very well be a partner, a member of the family or a dependable good friend. It must be somebody who would deal with the accountability in line with your needs. For many individuals, there might not be one particular person to share all of this knowledge with. Perhaps splitting the record and counting on two individuals would work finest. Others could not really feel snug distributing a lot info outright and would moderately present simply sufficient info that their trustees would know the place to seek out the lists within the occasion it turns into needed. This is a enormous duty and never one to be taken calmly.
Provide entry: A password-protected Excel spreadsheet is a good start line, so long as your trustee has entry to the doc when it’s wanted. The apparent difficulty with a exhausting copy is selecting a safe place to retailer it. I as soon as had a consumer who stored his password listing in a security deposit field. That grew to become a difficulty when it was found that the field would stay locked after dying till his executor was capable of petition the financial institution for entry. Nowadays, there are numerous online providers for storing passwords. Be conscious that even probably the most safe techniques are susceptible to hacking. If you’re considering going this route, examine a service’s options, ease of use, buyer assist and, most significantly, its safety. Some of the websites my purchasers have come throughout are Assetlock, PasswordBox, SecureSafe and Deathswitch.
Provide directions: The estate-planning group is starting to combine the administration of digital assets into their providers. It will turn out to be commonplace to offer executors of wills with directions on the place to acquire password lists and what ought to be carried out with them. Work with your estate-planning attorneys and monetary advisors to higher perceive the legal guidelines involving digital assets, as a result of they fluctuate vastly from state to state.
While everybody’s options could also be totally different, it is very important begin this dialog as we speak and to be proactive. As a monetary advisor who’s considerate about all elements of monetary planning, I urge my purchasers to start out interested by digital-asset administration earlier than they hear how needed it’s.
Humans have sought immortality since no less than the twenty second century B.A., if the traditional story “Epic of Gilgamesh” is any indication. And if we’re on the lookout for organic immortality, we would have to maintain trying. But if you happen to do not thoughts residing a digital life, immortality is likely to be yours for the taking.
Our new digital lives have opened up numerous methods for us to categorical ideas and share concepts, notably on social media. While you are busy posting your newest selfie, one thing way more significant is going on. With every picture you’re taking or message you write, know-how is slowly capturing digital artifacts of your life. Artifacts that sometime not too removed from now may be reassembled into your digital avatar.
Instead of flipping by means of picture albums, think about in case your nice-grandchildren stroll over to the newest voice-managed pc of their day and say, “I need to speak to grandma.” In simply seconds, a “digital you” is projected into the room prepared for a fast dialog. Your ideas, tales, favourite phrases and even mannerisms are all appropriate. Sounds far-fetched, however not as a lot as you may assume.
In reality, there are a number of firms who promise to accumulate your digital content material and create a digital you, together with Eterni.me, LifeNaut and LIVESON.
Created by a staff of engineers who met at MIT, Eterni.me is an internet site that guarantees to gather “virtually all the pieces that you just create throughout your lifetime.” From your content material, Eterni.me then guarantees to generate an “avatar that emulates your character” and may discuss with your loved ones and buddies even after you move away.
Another web site, referred to as LifeNaut, permits you to create a “mindfile,” a digital archive of your “distinctive and important” traits. Started by the Terasem Movement Foundation, LifeNaut hopes that clever software program of the long run will probably be in a position to “replicate a person’s consciousness.”
In 2010, Terasem initiated the Bina48 robotic, a humanoid robotic whose info or “mindfile” is predicated on Bina Rothblatt, one among Terasem’s co-founders. Bina48 interacts with people through voice and makes an attempt to acknowledge faces and keep in mind names, as you’ll be able to see on this 2010 video.
Hanson Robotics, the Texas-primarily based laboratory of David Hanson, built Bina48’s robotic torso. Hanson has helped work on different robots together with Albert Hubo, within the likeness of Albert Einstein, and Jules, a life-like android commissioned by the University of West England. Here’s a video of him:
In this second video, Jules expresses his want to stay along with his creators as a substitute of transferring to England. While his speech and expressions are fairly life like, the uncanniest particulars are his feelings, which vary from journey anxiousness to love.
Perhaps a humanoid robotic is not for you? Another web site, LIVESON, affords to proceed tweeting in your behalf when you’re gone. LIVESON makes use of synthetic intelligence software program to analyze your Twitter feed and be taught your style and syntax. The service asks you to choose an executor who will activate your “social afterlife” following your demise.
Unfortunately, the promise of digital immortality might be nonetheless a couple of years away. While LifeNaut is accepting new customers, Eterni.me is not, and LIVESON is just obtainable to a gaggle of 500 beta testers.
Regardless of whether or not you desire a digital avatar or humanoid robotic taking on the place you left off, your digital content material is a crucial report of your life. And there are various websites that assist retailer digital info and plan what ought to occur to it within the occasion of demise.
In the digital world, loss of life used to be the ultimate log-off. In the not-too-distant future, a digital life is perhaps simply what Gilgamesh was in search of.