It is not just tangible assets that need safe keeping to ensure you can pass them on – digital assets need securing also When people consider the assets they might leave behind to loved ones in a will, digital assets are commonly overlooked. Many would-be will makers do not […]
The digital estate – planning for the modern age
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We all own more and more intangible assets, particularly in the context of the digital age. While a traditional estate may contain an apartment, a car, a boat, and many movable assets, a modern estate also consists of various digital assets, which one might not immediately think about.
These may include:
- online businesses and websites
- computer source code
- crypto assets (e.g. Bitcoin, Ethereum)
- documents in the cloud (e.g. on Dropbox)
- software licenses
- internet domain names
- social media accounts (e.g. LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat)
- email accounts (e.g. Gmail, Outlook, etc.)
- ebooks (e.g. on Kindle)
- music, audiobooks and podcasts (e.g. on iTunes)
- movies (e.g. on Amazon Prime)
- blogs (e.g. WordPress, Blogger, Tumblr, Medium)
- video channels (e.g. on YouTube)
- photos on dedicated sites (e.g. on Imgur, Flickr, 500px)
These digital assets can have a significant financial value, such as bitcoins for example. However, often they will at least have a sentimental value for the testator’s relatives (such as the deceased’s photos in the cloud). In any case, they should be given the appropriate attention in estate planning and administration.
An inventory of digital assets and passwords prevents them from being lost forever
What needs to be considered when planning and administering the digital estate? First of all, it is important to find out what actually belongs to the digital estate of the testator. Ideally – but rarely in practice – the testator has created an inventory of digital assets during his or her lifetime. This inventory should also contain all the testator’s logins and passwords. Access to the testator’s email account is particularly important because it often is the key to accessing other websites. If the testator has not taken precautions, the passwords on various websites that the testator used during his or her lifetime can be reset and then accessed through the email account (provided that this is not illegal as is the case in some jurisdictions).
Particularly with crypto assets, it is essential that the testator provides his or her heirs with the “private keys”. Otherwise, such blockchain-based assets are basically lost forever. Of the approximately 18 million bitcoins currently in circulation, around 4 million have been lost through various combinations of sloppiness and bad luck. Passwords should also be written down for the heirs to find: take for example the case of Leonard Bernstein, whose memoirs have been encrypted on his computer since his death in 1990, with his heirs still trying to figure out what his passwords are.
Lack of clarity on rights of the deceased creates legal uncertainty and practical challenges
Another interesting question that requires clarification: which rights did the deceased really have (and thus which rights will the heirs have)? Providers such as Google, Facebook and others typically have terms of service (TOS). Upon closer examination, one will often be surprised to find that the rights of the testator were limited. For example, the terms may provide that he or she granted the provider an unlimited license to uploaded pictures and videos, or vice versa, that the individual has only obtained a license to the purchased films and music (which may even be limited to the purchaser’s own lifetime). A famous example is the case of the actor Bruce Willis, who apparently had a huge library of iTunes music and was annoyed that he could not leave it freely to his heirs – because the license granted to him by Apple was to expire with his death. Social media platforms take very different approaches. Some delete an account upon the death of the owner, others allow the account to be taken over by the heirs without restriction, and still others freeze the account and display a notice of the owner’s death. Innovative in this context is Google’s “Inactive Account Manager”, which allows the testator to determine who should have access after his or her death.
It is clear that the digital estate will continue to raise many interesting questions in the coming decades – both practical and legal. Individuals planning their estate should give sufficient consideration to their digital assets, so that their heirs are not left with riddles to solve.
Global Domain Industry heralds arrival of Perpetual Domain Registrations
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An important milestone on the road to Digital Sovereignty
SEATTLE, WA and BARCELONA / ACCESSWIRE / October 25, 2018 / During the 63rd convocation of global domain industry regulator, ICANN in Barcelona, perpetual domain ownership achieved an important milestone as Seattle-based Epik.com became the first domain name registrar to offer perpetual domain registrations for hundreds of popular domain extensions. Since the advent of private ownership of internet domain names, owners of domains have become accustomed to annual domain name renewal along with regular price increases for ownership of domains. From time to time, over the years, important domain names have unintentionally fallen into the wrong hands or have become temporarily disabled due to expiration or policy enforcement.
Although perpetual registrations are not yet available for every domain extension, a growing number of popular domain extensions can now be secured perpetually for a one-time fee. For example, the iconic .COM can be secured at Epik.com for the one-time, all-inclusive fee of $420 regardless of where a domain is presently registered. Eligible forever registrations at Epik include free privacy protection, theft protection, forwarding services and unlimited subdomains all at no additional cost.
Epik.com Founder and CEO, Rob Monster, a digital rights advocate, is a member of the ICANN global registrar stakeholder group that convened in Barcelona this week. In an interview on the opening day of the ICANN conference, Mr. Monster explained the move, “This is an important development for the domain industry. Customers have been asking for perpetual domain registrations for years. Epik is working with industry stakeholders to make forever registrations not only available but also affordable and eventually commonplace for registrants around the world.”
Peace of Mind in the Digital Age. Forever.
Forever domain registrations provide individuals and businesses with peace of mind. Once a Forever registration is secured, the future risk of domain loss due to administrative oversight or lack of funds is eliminated. While domain owners are still subject to legal use, domains can now become an enduring part of a will or estate, with continued managed registration compliance, even after the death of the original registrant. A Forever domain registration, which can be optionally combined with a Forever hosting plan, offers not only peace of mind, but also allows registrants to preserve their digital legacy, and on their terms.
Forever Registrations are for Everyone
Domain names are often described as a form of digital land. Freehold property ownership is not without precedent. Freehold ownership dates back thousands of years where the practice of perpetual land ownership was the standard. Epik is the first ICANN-accredited registrar to offer the perpetual registration. Additional registrars are expected to follow in the coming year. In the short time since Epik began offering Forever domain registrations, more than 1000 Forever registrations have been completed.
Epik customer, the Father Flanagan League has purchased 43 Forever registrations. League President, Steve Wolf explained the value of the Forever registrations, “Our mission and agenda is an enduring one. Epik has been a trusted and unwavering ally in securing our digital presence for the long term. With a portfolio of managed forever registrations from Epik, our digital presence is secured permanently and this is one major aspect of our organizational identity that we do not have to constantly deal with. This Epik service feature is a tremendous value and gives us peace of mind.”
Debra McCann, mother of international music sensation Kiesza, also secured Forever domain registrations for the Kiesza and SteamPop brands. “With Kiesza’s global chart topping hits, brand protection was a priority. We secured Forever registrations from Epik. Whether Kiesz is in the recoding studio or on world tour, we sleep well at night knowing that Kiesza’s most important domains can never fall into the wrong hands. Our domains are right where they belong. Forever.”
Paulo Leocadio, of Pompano Beach, Florida is Founder of SculpIT. Paulo owns 23 Forever registrations at Epik, broadly protecting the SculpIT brand across multiple planned categories of factory. He explains “The name “Sculpit” means different things to different people. I am protecting my brand across multiple new domain extensions including .FITNESS, .LIFE, .DIET. Forever registrations is a key pillar in protecting my brand once and for all.”
Jim Reifsnyder-Smith, of A1B 2BC is the owner of the premium 3 letter domain with an appraised value of more than $1 million that he leases to another Epik customer on Epik.com. Jim bought a Forever registration at Epik and explains “We lease our domain, so perpetual ownership gives our lessee’s extra peace of mind knowing that the domain they have been leasing isn’t going anywhere.”
For further information, or to schedule an interview, contact Rob Monster, CEO of Epik, at firstname.lastname@example.org or at +1(425)-765-0077. Domain owners can complete a no-cost check for eligibility of Forever domain registrations by visiting Epik.com/forever
About Epik Holdings Inc:
Founded in 2009, Epik is s leading full-service, all-inclusive registrar, as well as the leading provider of domain name leasing services and provider of escrow services for intangible assets. Domain industry regulator, ICANN, has accredited the privately held provider of domain registrations since 2011.
About Rob Monster:
Entrepreneur of the Year, TEDx alumnus, author, venture investor, and philanthropist, Rob Monster is a global advocate for sovereignty in the Digital Age – sovereignty of individuals and of the communities where they live and work. Rob, a Dutch-American, is a trusted advisor on digital strategy to both the public and private sector around the world.
Safe Harbor Language:Any statements contained herein related to future events are forward-looking statements and are made pursuant to the safe harbor provisions of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act 1995. Readers are cautioned not to place undue reliance on forward-looking statements. Epik Holdings, Inc. undertakes no obligation to update any such statements to reflect actual events
SOURCE: Epik LLC
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A friend recently told me of the challenge she faced sorting through her aging parents’ belongings to prepare their home for sale.
Her father had died years ago and her 94-year-old mother had been living in an assisted-care facility for more than a year. Most of the items of sentimental or personal value had already been distributed to her siblings. What remained were her parents’ personal archives — letters, photos, employment/financial/legal/health records, all tangible, physical objects that, once gone, would be gone forever.
In the internet age, personal archives are no longer limited to the tangible. In fact, much of one’s personal archives is now digital — emails, texts, photos, videos and social media accounts. And there’s a lot more content generated and stored than ever before. Some is saved on personal storage space, such as a computer hard drive. Other material lives in the cloud in services like Facebook, Google Mail and YouTube. In most cases, that content is protected by some kind of password.
So what becomes of all of that information when someone dies? Does it remain online forever? Can it be altered, deleted or downloaded, and if so, by whom? And how do these digital artifacts represent your life and legacy?
These questions inspired Evan Carroll and John Romano to create the website thedigitalbeyond.com to address these needs and concerns. Together they wrote the book “Your Digital Afterlife” in 2011. Since that time an entire industry has emerged to help people plan for managing their digital legacy. Thedigitalbeyond.com lists dozens of such online services. Some are free while others are fee-based.
Knotifyme.com, for example, “answers the question, ‘What happens to all my online accounts if I get amnesia, Alzheimer’s or if I leave from this world?’ With knotify.me you set future notifications to be sent to your family and beloved people or to yourself, ensuring that nothing of your digital life will be wasted (and) transfers your online property/heritage (urls, domain names, e-mail & social network accounts, etc.) to whomever you wish to continue it in the future!” You can sign up for this free service through your Facebook, Twitter or Google accounts. In short, according to its tagline, Knotifyme.com “manages your digital heritage.”
To address financial matters, consider Legacyarmour.com, which describes itself as “a secure asset protection platform where you organize your important information in encrypted vaults, and …. automatically deliver it to your designated recipients on a scheduled date, or in case of your death or incapacitation.” It is a fee-based membership service with different levels of coverage and prices depending on what you want.
The rapid growth of the web has outpaced the law in the realm of the digital afterlife. It wasn’t until 2015 that the Uniform Law Commission, a nongovernment organization, created the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (RUFADAA). It has since been adopted by 40 states and been introduced in five more this year. As its name suggests, RUFADAA “allows fiduciaries to manage digital property like computer files, web domains, and virtual currency, but restricts a fiduciary’s access to electronic communications such as email, text messages, and social media accounts unless the original user consented in a will, trust, power of attorney, or other record.”
Some online services have their own policies for providing access to a person’s account after he or she dies. Facebook allows users to designate a “Legacy Contact” who is legally permitted to enter someone’s account to post, respond to friend requests, and update profile and cover photos. The Legacy Contact may also be given the power to download an archive of the photos, posts and profile information in that account. Facebook users can also simply opt to have their account permanently deleted after their death. Google offers an Inactive Account Manager feature that allows users to share parts of their account data or notify someone if they’ve been inactive for a certain period of time.
One important and often repeated piece of advice is to never put usernames and passwords for any online accounts in your will, as it becomes a public record once it is entered into a probate court file.
It is never too soon to start estate planning, whether it be for tangible assets or digital ones. It may be well worth your time to investigate the policy options of your online account services and perhaps even avail yourself of some of the many digital afterlife services available today.
Cerise Oberman, SUNY Distinguished Librarian Emeritus, retired as dean of Library & Information Services at SUNY Plattsburgh. She can be reached at email@example.com. Tim Hartnett is associate librarian at SUNY Plattsburgh, Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Digital property is increasingly becoming a more important part of estate planning. Individuals should consider their digital property, in addition to their tangible assets, when finalizing and reviewing their estate plans.
A person’s digital property and electronic communications are referred to as “digital assets” and the companies who store those assets on their servers (Google, Facebook, Apple, etc.) are referred to as “custodians.” Digital assets are typically governed by terms of a service agreement — not by property law. These service agreements are unhelpful when a user passes away or becomes incapacitated. As the number of digital assets we have increases daily, so does this growing issue. To address this, many states have adopted the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (UFADAA), which allows a fiduciary the legal authority to manage another’s property and specifically allows Internet users the power to plan for the management and disposition of their digital assets.
Digital assets should be included in your normal estate planning and wealth transfer conversations with your estate planning attorney and family members. Your estate planning attorney may create an amendment to your existing will, trust, or power of attorney to give the designated agent the authority to direct or dispose of your digital assets. This amendment may take the form of a Virtual Asset Instruction Letter, which allows you to list accounts, instructions for those accounts, and the person(s) designated to access them.
Digital assets, while not always tangible, can be very valuable. For example, airline miles and hotel points have obvious monetary value, while photos, emails, and other creative works have sentimental value. As a result, it is important for individuals to have a plan for photos, email and social media accounts, financial accounts, and online memorabilia and documents.
Please contact us to request additional resources on creating a digital estate.
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