Journal of Financial Planning: September 2014 Jamie P. Hopkins, J.D., RICP ® , is an associate professor of taxation at The American College and the associate director of the New York Life Center for Retirement Income. Email author HERE . Ilya Lipin, J.D., LL.M., is an attorney in Philadelphia. […]
It could sound morbid however having a cyber footprint means there are extra issues we’d like to plan for in the unlucky occasion of our death.
Chanel Reynolds was 39 and her husband, José Hernando, was forty three when he was hit by a van whereas driving his bike.
The influence smashed his higher backbone and induced an instantaneous traumatic cardiac arrest, however he made it to the hospital with a hint of a pulse. However, as an alternative of having the ability to spend valuable time along with her husband through the week that he clung to life, Reynolds had to spend hours coping with a host of issues that stemmed from the very fact she didn’t know the 4-digit passcode to his cellphone.
“That meant I couldn’t pay money for his dad,” she says, explaining that his dad and mom had separated when he was younger and weren’t in contact. For hours she tried numerous codes however the extra failed makes an attempt she made, the longer the telephone would lock her out.
“Eventually, the medical doctors had been telling me that he might die any minute; they hoped he’d be steady sufficient to take into surgical procedure [but] there was a 50/50 likelihood that he wouldn’t make it off the desk, so I had to do a Facebook replace saying, ‘Hey, everybody in the Hernando household: Someone give me a name.’
“That’s completely not the best way you need to let any individual know that one thing has occurred,” she provides.
Reynolds was encountering a fashionable drawback of this digital age – the truth that once we go, we take a lot of necessary info with us. She’s since used the expertise of dropping her husband in 2009 to arrangegetyourshittogether.org, a web site outlining all of the paperwork it’s best to have in place for an emergency.
In the previous, when data was held on paper, family members may extra simply acquire entry to financial institution accounts, medical insurance insurance policies, enterprise belongings, photographs and extra.
Jamie Hopkins, an affiliate professor of taxation at The American College of Financial Services, says that lately many particulars are paperless – for instance, financial institution accounts. “So if you happen to don’t have entry to their electronic mail, you possibly can’t actually care for that particular person’s funds,” he provides.
As increasingly more individuals are studying the onerous method, many people depart behind a “digital afterlife” or “digital legacy” in the type of on-line identities and possessions that can primarily outlive us. These vary from e mail accounts, Facebook and Twitter profiles and on-line pictures, movies and blogs to eBay and Etsy storefronts.
If we’re not ready, the individuals we go away behind might lose these components of us as nicely, so listed here are some key steps to think about for proofing your digital life.
Take a digital stock
Yes, this appears like a beast, however it is best to attempt to log all of the digital accounts you’ve got, together with electronic mail accounts, on-line banking, mortgage and insurance coverage particulars; social media accounts similar to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest; locations the place you add images and video resembling Flickr, Instagram and Youtube, and retailer music and e-books similar to iTunes and Amazon; and any website the place you’ve registered your bank card info, reminiscent of on-line shops and companies (bank card fraud typically includes particulars of people that’ve lately died).
Give dealing with directions
For every account, go away directions on dealing with after you’re gone (for instance, which of them you need to have deleted). For others, observe your username and password, and designate somebody to give them to. US creator Evan Carroll, co-author of Your Digital Afterlife and one of many creators of thedigitalbeyond.com, a assume tank for digital death points, advises treating your electronic mail account because the grasp key to different accounts. As lengthy because the executor of your digital estate has entry to that, likelihood is they’ll reset that password and acquire the suitable entry to different accounts.
As for social media, websites resembling Facebook provide methods to memorialise a individual’s account, which some households select to do. If you’d like your account to have a ultimate assertion, you possibly can depart directions as to what it needs to be.
Know the “death phrases” of your accounts
Acquaint your self with the phrases of service of your whole accounts, notably your e-mail suppliers. Some websites, equivalent to Yahoo, state that your account can’t be turned over to anybody else and that, in reality, accounts of deceased customers are topic to everlasting deletion. This would have a knock-on impact on every part from emails to photograph-sharing websites. If these phrases don’t sit proper with you, it’s your decision to think about switching to a totally different service supplier.
Choose the place to save your info
The problem with storage is that if somebody undesirable accesses this data earlier than you die it may wreak havoc in your life, so that you want to discover a place that’s safe however that a cherished one may simply entry in the occasion of your death or if you happen to turned incapacitated.
Hopkins recommends placing all of this info into one doc and storing it on an exterior and encrypted onerous drive.
That additionally protects in opposition to the opportunity of somebody who steals or illegally accesses your computer having the ability to undergo your passwords. Other choices embrace storing the main points on paper in a locked drawer or asking your legal professional if they’ll retailer the knowledge for you.
Get authorized recommendation and inform family members the place it’s
Because all of this entails your “property”, you want to receive authorized recommendation to ensure you’re in line with state legal guidelines or any legal guidelines you will not be conscious of. However, don’t neglect to inform somebody how to entry this authorized recommendation, too – in any other case some or your entire preparation may very well be for nothing.
Finally, don’t postpone this digital planning, and don’t assume that you’ve to do it completely or not do it in any respect. Even in the event you solely have time for one small step, simply do this.
When Chanel Reynolds was 39 and her husband, Jose Hernando, was 43, he was hit by a van while riding his bike.
It smashed his upper spine and caused an immediate traumatic cardiac arrest, but he made it to the hospital with a trace of a pulse. For a week, until doctors determined he would never regain consciousness, Reynolds, who most wanted to be with her husband, had to spend precious hours dealing with a host of problems starting with the fact that she didn’t know the four-digit passcode to his phone.
“That meant I couldn’t get ahold of his dad,” she says. (She had some family numbers, but not all; his parents had separated when he was young and were not in contact.) For hours, she tried various passcodes, but the phone would lock her out for longer periods of time the more failed attempts she made. “Eventually, the doctors were telling me he could die any minute and that they hoped he would be stable enough to take into surgery and there was a 50/50 chance that he wouldn’t make it off the table, so I had to do a Facebook update saying, ‘Hey, everyone in the Hernando family — someone give me a call.’
“That is absolutely not the way you want to let somebody know that something has happened.”
Reynolds was encountering something relatively new in this digital age — the fact that when we go, we carry a lot of our most important possessions with us. In the past, when information was held on paper, our loved ones could more easily gain access to our bank accounts, health insurance policies, business assets, photos and more.
Jamie Hopkins, a professor at The American College of Financial Services, says, “Normally, you would say, ‘I know my dad has a couple bank accounts. Where are they?’ And you show up to his house, but if he’s paperless, there won’t be mail coming from Bank of America or Wells Fargo or Wachovia, and the only place that mail is going is to his email. So if you don’t have access to the email, you can’t really take care of that person’s finances.”
Also, as more and more people are learning nowadays, we will all experience “digital death,” leaving behind a “digital afterlife” or “digital legacy” in the form of our online identities and possessions, which will essentially outlive us in the cloud — whether through our email accounts, Facebook and Twitter profiles, online photos and videos, blogs, eBay and Etsy storefronts and more. And for those we leave behind, if we don’t prepare, they could lose these parts of us as well.
Reynolds says, “because I didn’t have [passwords and access to accounts] ahead of time and because I realized it was going to be hard to get them, you end up having to make dozens of phone calls over and over and over again and basically talk to the ‘I’m sorry for your loss’ department just to get your bank account turned over to you, or access the things that were in your partner’s name only.” (She also didn’t even know if their wills were updated or if they had life insurance, which prompted her to create a website called Get Your [Stuff] Together, which outlines all the documents one should have in place in an emergency.)
In the United States, the value of online assets is nearly $55,000 per internet user, according to online security company McAfee, and while Hopkins says that much of that value is probably in small businesses, he also says, “There’s a lot of unclaimed life insurance out there because nobody even knows somebody had a policy. Those types of issues will be highlighted as more and more things go digital.”
Evan Carroll, coauthor of Your Digital Afterlife and author at TheDigitalBeyond.com, a website that monitors related issues, says, “Ideally, we’d have systems and laws and protocols in place and your heirs could gain access to your digital materials and you wouldn’t have to do anything special for that to happen. Unfortunately, both our social norms and our laws have not caught up with the digital lives that we’re leading today.”
A group called the Uniform Laws Commission created a Committee on Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets that is currently drafting recommendations for digital assets statutes that states can adapt or adopt. (Seven states already have adopted such statutes — Connecticut, Rhode Island, Indiana, Virginia, Idaho, Nevada and Oklahoma.)
But until the laws do catch up, here what you can do to reduce the pain and suffering of our loved ones by preparing beforehand.
1. Take a digital inventory.
Yes, this sounds like a beast, but you should try to log all the digital accounts you have, though obviously certain ones are higher priority than others:
Your computers, smartphones and other devices including tablets, ebook readers, mp3 players, etc.
Financial institutions and policies, for checking and savings accounts; credit cards; retirement accounts; other investment accounts; student loans; mortgage lenders; life, health, disability, auto and renter’s/homeowner’s insurance; Paypal; etc.
Social media accounts, such as Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Pinterest, Reddit, etc.
Online businesses that produce revenue, such as eBay, Etsy, Amazon Marketplace, a blog that pulls in advertising, etc.
Places where you upload photos, videos or other media, such as Flickr, Picasa, Instagram, Youtube, Vimeo, etc.
Sites or applications where you store store music, movies, ebooks such as iTunes or Amazon
Any site where you’ve registered your credit card information, such as online stores and services. This may seem extreme, but credit card fraud often involves people who have recently died, and those bills could end up going to spouses.
2. For each, give instructions for how loved ones should handle the account after you’re gone.
Delineate which accounts should be deleted. For other accounts, designate someone to get your username and password or passcode. When deciding what to do with each account, consider these guidelines:
Email: It’s best, if possible, to give access to your email account, says Carroll. “Email is the master key to other accounts.… As long as your executor has access to your email account, chances are good that they can reset that password and obtain the appropriate access to other accounts.”
If you’re uncomfortable with the idea of others looking at your correspondence, “you could say, ‘While I know you would need access for these reason, I prefer if you don’t go looking for this or that type of message,’” says Carroll. (See below for important notes on the differences between Gmail’s and Yahoo Mail’s policies.)
Online businesses: “When it comes to online businesses — eBay or Etsy or advertising on a blog you write — the financial value of these assets is a real financial value to the estate, so you want to make sure that is handled the appropriate way through your will,” says Carroll. With anything financial, he adds, executors will need to follow the appropriate policies of both the service and orders in your will.
Social media: “Sometimes it makes sense for a social media account to remain in place to serve as a memorial,” says Carroll. “Facebook has a way to memorialize accounts. On Twitter, some families have chosen to keep Twitter accounts online so people can read them, though obviously there are no additional posts there. It would be strange and almost unwelcome if an account from someone who is deceased continues to post. A final notification would be appropriate, but beyond that, it becomes an unwelcome reminder of a potentially sad event.” If you’d like the account to have a final statement, you can leave instructions as to what it should be.
3. Acquaint yourself with the terms of service of all your accounts, but especially your email accounts.
Yahoo’s terms of service state that your account cannot be turned over to anyone else, and that, in fact, accounts of deceased users are subject to permanent deletion. This would affect everything ranging from email to Flickr photos. Though some people may prefer that policy, if those terms don’t sit right with you, you could switch to email and the photo-sharing site Picasa by Google, which offers an Inactive Account Manager that allows you to dictate in advance how your possessions held by Google should be handled.
Reynolds also suggests having a digital power of attorney written into your power of attorney document that empowers someone to get your assets online. “It clearly states your intent that someone can go get your information for you,” she says. “It doesn’t alway mean the companies will give it back to you — there aren’t federal digital laws yet — but … you can have more power over what happens to your Facebook account or your Youtube channel so it’s more what your wishes are than what the company policy is.”
4. Determine where to save this information.
The challenge with storage is that, if someone undesirable accessed this information before you died, it could wreak a lot of havoc in your life, so you need to find a place that’s secure but that a loved one could also easily access in the event of your death or if you became incapacitated. “You can’t put that [information] in a will because, one, wills become public once they go through probate,” says Hopkins. “The other problem is that wills — you have to keep updating them every time your passwords and usernames change.”
He recommends putting everything into a document stored on an external encrypted hard drive. That also protects against the possibility that someone could either steal or be on your computer, going through your passwords.
Carroll adds that you could also put them on paper in a locked file drawer if you have a high level of trust in your family, and that many attorneys will also store information for you, though that might become a pain every time you want to update a password or add to the document. You could also turn to one of a number of services like LastPass or SecureSafe that have cropped up to assist people in this task. With LastPass, you would only need to share your master password, and with SecureSafe, it gives you a 64-character code that you can include in your estate documents so someone can inherit your account.
Hopkins adds that some services will allow you to have more control over who sees which accounts — for instance, you could use the service to delete a certain account without any family members knowing you had it, and send one account to one person, but another account to a different loved one.
Ultimately, Carroll says, you should choose whatever method is best for your situation.
5. Get legal advice and tell your loved ones where the information is stored.
Because this does involve your estate, obtain legal advice to make sure you’re in line with state laws or any other laws you may not be aware of. And unless you tell someone where this information is stored, some or all of your preparation could be for naught.
Finally, don’t put this off — and don’t think you have to do it perfectly to do it at all. Even if you only have time for one small step, just do that.
“We suffer from this thing that researchers call benign neglect. It’s the same thing with backing up our computers,” says Carroll. “We know we need to do it, but we think, ‘I’ll get around to that another time.’ With backing up your computer, oftentimes, it’s not until someone loses significant data that they decide, ‘I need to be diligent about backing up.’ Unfortunately, with death we only have one chance. … Take some action, because that’s a million times better than taking no action.”