Preparing a Digital Asset Estate Plan and Will
Over and over again, the mainstream media have been publishing articles highlighting the ever increasing problem of what happens with our digital assets when we are gone.
Recently, the CBC in Canada told the story of Peggy Bush.
Peggy’s husband had succumbed to lung cancer and she liked to play card games on their iPad to pass the time. The card game stopped working so she wanted to update it. Unfortunately the 72 year old widow needed the Apple ID password, and her husband had never thought to tell her what it was.
The best option that Apple gave her was to create a new Apple ID, but this would mean re-purchasing all of the games that had already been purchased by her husband. Apple suggested that they would only be able to release the User ID and password of the account with a court order.
The Washington Post picked up on the story and run with the headline.
Her dying husband left her the house and the car, but he forgot the Apple password
And the Daily Mail in the UK ran with the headline
Widow who wanted her dead husband’s Apple ID so she could play games on their iPad is refused and told to get a COURT order instead
Google news is claiming the story was republished as 19,000 separate news articles.
Legal experts have been warning about the need to make out a will for centuries. By now, nearly everyone is convinced that creating an estate plan is absolutely essential, especially if you have many assets. Yet, even today, most wills say nothing about what you want your loved ones to do with your digital assets after you’re beyond taking care of them.
When we reach our 40s and 50s, most of us begin to think about what will happen after we’re gone. What will our relatives do about our house, car, savings and business? The usual thing to do at this time is make a will to outline our wishes and appoint an executor to carry them out. It’s all a part of maturing. But, think about this: you may have a last will and testament, but do you have a digital will?
Preparing a digital asset estate plan grows increasingly more important every year, as technology advances and more people embrace the digital age. For many years, it was the young people who had the most digital assets. But, as time goes by, those people age and older people become more connected.
In 2015, Limelight Networks, a digital content delivery network, did a series of surveys that were compiled and analyzed in their 2015 State of the User Experience. Limelight asked people from various demographics about their internet experiences and habits. A total of 1,302 people in Canada, the U.S., the U.K. and Singapore took the surveys.
What were the results? For one thing, an astonishing 51% of consumers aged 51-69 spent 15 hours per week online that anyone, including Millennials only 41% of whom of the spent that much time using a computer, laptop or phone to access the internet. The U.K. Office for National Statistics found similar statistics that revealed a whopping 70% of people aged 65-74 were online. Each of those people were leaving a digital footprint on the web. Along with their digital presence online, they were accumulating digital assets that would have to be dealt with when they were no longer able to do it themselves.
What Are Digital Assets?
To put it simply, digital assets are anything of value that can be stored or managed on a digital device. They include information you store on your personal computer, laptop, tablet or phone, as well as assets your store on the cloud. Their value may be monetary, such as bitcoin or a PayPal account. Digital photos are included, too, even if they aren’t bought or sold, if they have sentimental value for the user, their loved ones or anyone else who would be interested in them.
The value of a Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter account is in its power over the user’s reputation and the good will he or she wants to express to others. Textual content has value, too, like a Word document that contains important information or content that could be bought or sold, or a Kindle library filled with books others might want to read.
Metadata, which is data about this data such as account numbers, usernames and passwords, also has value because it allows the user (and anyone who has that information) to login to the account and make changes. When you give others that metadata, they may be able to withdraw funds from your accounts, close your accounts, or steal your digital, intellectual and even physical property. It stands to reason that if these assets have value, you will not only want to safeguard them, but you may want to pass them on after you become incapacitated or die.
What If You Can’t Manage Your Digital Assets?
Once you realize the value of your digital assets, you can begin to imagine what would happen if those assets were lost or stolen after you’re no longer able to manage them. First, your loved ones would not benefit from them or the monetary or physical assets they control.
For instance, if you have a seller’s account on eBay, your loved ones won’t be able to manage that money. Most digital marketplaces have a set procedure for when an account isn’t used for a long period. PayPal will send your money to your bank account after a certain time, but what if no one knows about that money? They might close your bank account before the cash is sent, making it much harder for them to get it.
Your account numbers and passwords to utilities and other services allow you to learn your account balances and pay bills. But, if you leave a spouse and/or children in your household, they might not be able to pay the family bills. Power or water could be shut off to the house before anyone realizes a utility bill is due.
Social media accounts, just like any account with a password, might be hacked. Thieves in the digital underworld might use your social accounts to defraud others. They may make posts on your account that are disturbing to your friends and family. Your reputation can be damaged, too, if your private messages or online habits are revealed. If these are things matter to you, it’s crucial that you prepare your digital will while you still can.
What Do Popular Online Sites and Services Do with Your Accounts?
Since there are really no laws governing what happens with your digital accounts when you pass away, each company decides what happens to your account when you can no longer access it. The most popular social media sites have policies on this, but they’re different in each case.
Facebook’s policy on user death or disability is a bit strange in that it potentially gives power over your Facebook account to strangers. If anyone contacts them, no matter who it is, and they can provide a link to an obituary, Facebook allows that person to delete your account or choose to memorialize it. Your loved ones could get in trouble by using your account directly. That could be illegal and definitely goes against Facebook’s user agreement and policies.
Considering Twitter’s stated policy that you own your Tweets, it’s surprising that they also allow anyone showing a public notice of a death to close the deceased’s Twitter account or store a backup of it. Other than that, they give no guarantees about what will happen to your account after you die.
LinkedIn is another social site that allows anyone to close an account after they report someone has died LinkedIn needs a link to an obituary and the date of death. The only other things they need are some basic information, most of which is available by visiting your profile and making notes. They need to know your LinkedIn URL, your email address and the company you last worked for along with your name. They have to state their relationship to you, but if they don’t know you, they can just choose ‘other.’
YouTube is a bit stricter with their policy. They require the person wishing to manage your YouTube account to supply a digital copy of their Power of Attorney. Otherwise, the account may be deleted by YouTube after six months of inactivity on the account.
Amazon is a marketplace where products and services can be both bought and sold. When you’re the buyer, you are adding to your digital assets. When you’re the seller or have an Amazon Associates account, you may be doing the same thing – even after you die. Yet, Amazon has no clear policy about what they’ll do when someone passes away. If anyone gives Amazon any proof the company believes to be factual that you’ve died, then they can close your account.
Ebay also has no stated policy about accounts and ebay stores that are left when someone dies. If anyone produces a death certificate, they can close down the account. If you have funds in your ebay account or transactions going on in your ebay store, the people you’ve chosen to manage your estate might not become aware of it before a competitor (or anyone else) closes the account.
If you use your PayPal account often, it’s likely that you have some money there. PayPal will close your account if it hasn’t been accessed for three years. Then, it will dispose of your funds as it chooses or as the law requires. If the executor of your will doesn’t know about the account, that money will be lost to your loved ones. Other than that, PayPal has no standard policies whatsoever about what will happen to this important digital asset.
Making a Digital Will
A digital will puts you in the driver’s seat when it comes to your digital assets. You get to be the one who decides what happens to them if you can no longer use them. You’ll also have the opportunity to pass along the metadata that goes with each digital asset so the executor of your digital estate can follow your wishes.
As you prepare your digital asset estate, you need to start by gathering all the information you have or can get about the digital assets you own, including account numbers, usernames, passwords and more. You’ll already know the details of some of your digital assets by heart. Then, you’ll have to look up and record any other digital assets you can’t remember precisely. It’s important to remember every account, but that can be hard if you use the Internet for a lot of different things.
Writing the Will
In most cases, a digital will is a part of the traditional will. The information could be contained in the will itself, but the possibility that the information will become public or used by someone else to commit fraud is significant. You would need to put all your account numbers, passwords and the specific digital assets you have in a legal document that could be viewed and used by just about anyone.
A better way to write the digital will is to have it on a separate document. You can include a very brief mention of the existence and location of your digital assets estate plan in your standard will. It may seem like a monumental task, but you need to include as much of your digital information as you can. Then, you need to name a special executor to carry out this digital will.
This separate document will likely need to be updated frequently. You may change passwords, add or delete accounts or change your mind about how you want them handled. The more up-to-date you can keep your digital asset estate plan, the more helpful it will be to your executor and the more good your family will get from your digital assets.
Choosing an Executor for Your Digital Will
Another thing you need to do is appoint a digital asset estate manager. Many people who have thought about the importance of a digital will are still giving this job to the same executor that must deal with all their physical property and funds. Then, that person is overloaded with responsibilities or doesn’t have the tech knowledge to do the job right. So, having a digital will may not be enough. Instead, you need to carefully consider who will manage your digital assets only after you die. Finding that perfect executor can be quite a task. Here are a few guidelines to help you along the way:
1) You need someone you can trust.
This person will have access to all your digital assets. They may have a lot of freedom to do as they wish rather than following your wishes. Make sure you choose someone who has you and your loved one’s best interests at heart.
2) The executor needs to be tech-savvy.
Since your digital will executor will be working with a computer and digital data to manage your digital asset estate, they need to have a good knowledge of technology. They need to be able to access all your digital assets, whether they are on your computer or stored on the cloud, and make the changes you have requested. They also need to be comfortable with asking for tech support and dealing with Internet companies.
3) They need to be hardworking and dedicated to carrying out your wishes.
Digital estate management can be an overwhelming job to someone who isn’t prepared to do whatever it takes to complete all your digital business in a timely way. So, choose someone who is responsible and hardworking.
Online Digital Assets Management Options
Since most people have such an enormous internet presence, managing digital assets can be extremely difficult. After all, who remembers every site they supplied a password for and what that username and password is? Have you really considered what you’ll do with every asset? If you’re like most people, even you aren’t aware of everything your digital asset estate holds.
A few options for managing digital assets have been devised by Internet companies. Most of them are designed for storing usernames and passwords. Although this service does have some value, it only begins to touch the breadth and depth of your digital assets. A better solution would be one that not only stores the basic information about those assets, but also lets your guardian know what to do with them.
WishesKept – A Better Solution
WishesKept is a comprehensive digital asset estate management tool. Not only does it allow you to store the details of your digital assets – but it also allows you to store everything about your life in one safe place, where is can be shared with loved one when the time is right.
The beauty of WishesKept is its detailed prompts for adding the information your digital will executor will need. So, you don’t have to remember each account or even each category on your own. The prompts guide you through the process, and will often remind you of digital services you may have forgotten about or not used in a while.
While most password applications only store your login details, WishesKept lets you store important information like your bank accounts, loans, mortgages, insurance policies, home bills, advance care plan and your funeral preferences. In fact WishesKept records hundreds of facts, covering all aspects of your life (both online and offline).
Wisheskept lets you organize your life and gives you a secure place where you can store everything important to you and your loved ones.