Legacy Tip #4: Plan if & how you will share important information such as passwords with next of kin

You may be thinking about what happens to your digital estate after you die and you’ve read that it’s wise to provide details for your online accounts – including usernames, passwords as well as an overview of important information locked behind these accounts — to your nominated friend, family member or next of kin.

What options are available to you to transition this information securely and reliably? The chances are you won’t want to share sensitive log in and account details to your next of kin while you are alive for many reasons including security.

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Copyright: Asif Akbar

Consider a Digital Afterlife Service

Online services concerned with passwords and passing on digital legacies are varied in what they offer but generally speaking, they aim to centrally manage multiple sources of data in one place as well as allow users to nominate who receives this data when they die. After the user’s death, information is often transferred to nominated contacts without sharing usernames and/or passwords.

Many include a decent amount of storage for the account holder to organise photos, memories, notes and documents with friendly user interfaces for viewing and downloading. On the whole, they encourage account holders to think in a structured way about doing an inventory of their online life and the digital legacy that they’d like to share.

Digital Services: How to keep passwords confidential while bequeathing them to your next of kin

Digital services for managing passwords and other important information

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If a will is drafted on a mobile phone, is it valid? Not likely say US estate advisers…

digital afterlife or legacy on phone

“Michal Zacharzewski, SXC”

A recent court ruling in Queensland, Australia determined that a will that had been drafted on an iPhone was valid. This prompted IT Law Firm IdeaLaw to ask, could wills drafted on social media and in other informal scenarios be deemed as legally valid in the future?*

While it has been suggested as a possibility in Australia, this feature attracted some interesting feedback from legal and estate planning representatives in the US who indicated that this would depend on the state. However, in mentioned cases it was considered unlikely – at least, for the foreseeable future.

“For the US, that will depend on each state’s laws,” replied Jeff Dundon, Director, Gift Planning at UC Foundation. “It would not be considered a holographic will in Ohio and does not meet the requirements of written signed by testator and at least two independent witnesses. A statutory change could make it possible but I can foresee a lot of issues and contests for a ‘smart phone’ will.”

Reeve Chudd, Partner, Ervin, Cohen & Jessup added, “Not in California. We only have two types of Wills — (a) signed by the testator and witnessed by at least two independent witnesses, and (b) entirely in the testator’s handwriting which is signed and dated (holographic Will). Video Wills don’t work either.”

Dave Towers, a Gift Planning Officer at Victoria Hospital Foundation in Canada had the final say however, referring to a recent anniversary of a will drafted in extraordinary circumstances over 60 years ago. He pointed to a farmer’s last wishes that he etched onto the fender of a tractor after it fell on him during an accident. These were later accepted by a court in Saskatchewan.

A judge at the time ordered the fender portion of the tractor to be cut off and it has been displayed under a piece of glass in the Saskatchewan Law College Library ever since.

*IdeaLaw’s full analysis: “Can a document on a smartphone be a valid will?”

Away For A Bit on ABC7.30 – What happens to your online accounts after you die?

Watch this ABC report which explores the digital afterlife, offering an initial look at emotional, practical and legal aspects to consider when managing an online estate.

abc_730_online_accounts_when_you_die“…it’s very important to be considering things like digital wills, which might be an extension of what you’re doing already if you’re managing your estate and speaking to a legal advisor. It also means that the next of kin and your friends and family, who might be in a state of shock, have some sense of what you might want done with that information.” Emily Baxter from Away For A Bit

5 minute guide: What to think about when planning afterlife messages

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SOURCED FROM:

Messages from the beyond: how planned messages can be a comfort for those grieving

Planning messages from the beyond: using digital services

How to limit emotional fall out when planning digital afterlife messages

How to avoid legal issues for beneficiaries when planning digital afterlife messages

How to avoid legal issues for beneficiaries when planning digital afterlife messages

legal_contest_digital_afterlife_messagesWith courts recognising informal documents such as notes, emails, letters, video as having legal standing, one key aspect to think about carefully when planning post-mortem messages intended for next of kin, family or friends is what you should include in them. Even if your intent is good, by leaving a personal message you may raise a recipient’s expectations or sense of entitlement relating to an inheritance and risk the potential of your estate instructions being questioned after death.

There’s a plethora of digital services now available for consumers where they can share messages and information with their next of kin, friends and family after they die.

Darryl Browne, Solicitor at Browne-Linkenbagh explains that there has been a 60 per cent increase in claims over the last decade in Australia largely initiated by people who have been acknowledged within informal documentation by a deceased party which has later been used to contest the deceased person’s will.

In the UK also, claims for mis-handling a deceased person’s estate has tripled in a year, the result of inadequate safe guards put in place as people rely more and more on DIY wills and informal estate planning measures.

“When you make declarations that are wrong, that overly inflate a person’s worth to you or are inflammatory when recording last wishes, it can be counterproductive,” says Browne. “If a will is contested, claims will take two or more years to be resolved and can have significant emotional, legal and financial implications for the intended beneficiaries of your estate.”

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Who owns your digital history in a future far, far away?

digital_data_digital_afterlife_digital_historyI’ve been speaking with a variety of researchers on the legal aspects around our digital accounts and what happens to them after we die. Often the discussion focuses on who is entitled to access a deceased person’s online account data – such as email, photos or documents – and the consensus is that it’s complicated.

Some platforms such as Google have started to allow users to nominate next of kin, family or friends to receive their personal information once their account becomes inactive. With the Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act approved in the US (July 2014), we may see a system where a personal representative of a deceased person’s estate has as much right to manage the digital assets of the deceased in the same way they would their tangible assets. Currently ownership of digital assets often remain with online services such as Facebook and Yahoo unless contested through the legal system by a next of kin.

While laws are catching up with digital and social technologies, Damian McCallig, a PhD candidate from the School of Law at National University of Ireland in Galway is curious to know what will happen to our data a generation or more after we die.

As he points out, current copyright laws in countries like the UK and Australia allow someone’s personal information to become available in the public domain several years after that individual has died. Records around births, deaths and marriages are accessible by researchers or family members interested in their genealogy or a previous generation’s history. Unpublished works such as diaries or letters can be published without the permission of their estate, as long as a certain period of time has passed since the author died. In the UK, this is seventy years, although there are specific exemptions.

“Currently a lot of today’s information that is relevant for the researchers and historians of the future is behind walls and owned by companies,” says McCallig. “For instance, Barack Obama has a Twitter account which will hold public tweets but also private messages which are gated. This information will be relevant from a historical and research point of view. Previously these kinds of notes would have become available after a set period of time. What copyright laws apply to this digital data managed by private organisations?”

McCallig believes that Facebook would have been alerted to the opportunity around its memorialised accounts (what is Facebook memorialisation?) when a father campaigned for a ‘look back’ video to be made for his son who died in 2012, attracting widespread support. He wonders if Facebook is assessing the commercial potential for its deceased accounts in the long term. Facebook’s main revenue stream comes from advertising, based on driving eyeballs to ad creative and sponsored posts. Memorialised Facebook accounts offer no value to marketers or monetisation options for the company in its current model.

While he’s not certain on how Facebook would commercialise these accounts, likely scenarios could include charging researchers, educational institutions, public information bodies and even individuals for access to archival information.

“Facebook is able to provide insights on how communities reacted to news and events within specific contexts or a particular point in time. It can detail emotional responses as well as online behaviour across timelines and networks,” says McCallig. “That’s of tremendous value to future historians.”

If this is the case, should these historical insights and archives be available freely to the public or remain in the hands of commercial companies? And if Facebook fails to survive, should there be a contingency plan to protect and share our histories with future generations?

What do you think?

Read more about Damian McCallig’s perspectives on Digital Remains or connect with him on Twitter.

 

 

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