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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Legacy Tip #3: Have a good system for managing photos, make sure you back up!

Previously, I wrote about my own challenge with photos and how sorting through and archiving them was difficult. One of the main lessons I learnt through painful experience was that it was important to give some thought upfront to a filing system and not make it up as you go along!

Mara Morrison, Co-Owner with The Filing Fairies, a company that works with clients to organise their photo memories says that people often are overwhelmed and don’t know where to start when it comes to managing and archiving photos. This could be because of the multiple boxes of old prints, slides or negatives lying around or the sheer number of devices and images they need to gather together and work through.

Here are 5 top tips from The Filing Fairies to think about when managing photos to make sure that you hold onto important memories.

  1. Check your camera settings: having the correct date on your images will save you time and energy in the future when organising.
  2. Delete the dodgy ones straight away: resist the urge to keep all your images and be conscious that a bad photo is just digital clutter.
  3. Have a place for everything so everything can be in its place: whatever filing system you use, be consistent and make sure everyone knows and uses it.
  4. BACK UP! Wherever, however – just do it!
  5. Make it a habit: just like your lawns, your photos deserve your efforts with maintenance. If you stay on top of it you can keep organised in just 30 minutes a month – promise!

Related reading: Sorting out photos requires a good system.” Tips to get it right from the get-go.

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?”

Legacy Tip #2: Register online accounts with personal email address & keep contact details updated

protect_legacy_email_social_online_accountsFor personal online services such as for banking and financial, registrations to social media accounts such as Facebook and LinkedIn or other entertainment/lifestyle memberships where digital assets may be stored (i.e. your Apple account with iPhoto or iCloud), always use a personal email address for the sign-up process as opposed to a company email address or someone else’s contact details.

It’s a practical and basic rule but it means that you keep control over the sign in process as well as management of the account and the data it contains.

Why?

If a person leaves a place of employment and their work email is associated with their online services, they may have access issues later.

When someone leaves a company suddenly (i.e. in the case of redundancy), it’s likely that the business will cancel the email address if not immediately, then very quickly for security reasons.

In the event that an employee is working through a notice period before leaving the company, there’s still a chance that updating social media and online registration details with a personal email address may be forgotten with the distraction of other handover tasks.

This generally means that when that person leaves the company, they won’t have access to the email account for any correspondence from online subscription services but more importantly, they are unable to reset usernames and passwords for online services that rely on email, as well as a response to the emails they send, to identify an account holder.

Next of kin will have issues accessing a deceased person’s accounts if they are associated with a work email address. 

Even the most sympathetic companies will not (or in any event are extremely unlikely) to allow next of kin to access the deceased’s email account for privacy and security reasons.

Whether or not next of kin or close family and/or friends have access to the deceased’s usernames and passwords, if the accounts they are trying to enter are associated with a work email, they still won’t be able to access those services that rely on email and responses from the account holder’s email to confirm access rights.

Using an online service set up with another person’s details can lead to access issues and complications down the line.

Say a couple shares a household service which has only been set up in one person’s name. Should the person that registered for the subscription die, their partner may no longer be able to access the account. This is for the reason cited before — that digital services often verify access rights through email — but similarly, functions that we often take for granted these days such as ‘remember this password’ on devices means that the person who survived the deceased may not know relevant passwords either.

For shared household services, it’s wise to set these up using an email account that everyone within the household can access and document relevant passwords so that if the person who registered the account(s) leaves, it does not automatically result in discontinuation of the service.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that when someone registers for an online account, they are the one to accept terms and conditions as well as responsibility for it — including associated fees — even if the service is predominantly used by someone else.

As an example, if a son or daughter bought a mobile phone account or online media subscription for a parent but signed up for it under their own name, they would be liable for ongoing payments in the event their parent died during the fixed term contract period.

Legacy Tip #1: Plan what happens to your Facebook Data and Profile

facebook_legacy_memorialisation_friends_change_digital_afterlifeFor anyone located in the US, Facebook has introduced Legacy Contact, a set of features that allow a user to nominate a friend to manage their account, albeit in a more restricted way, after they die. A Legacy Contact is able to update profile photos or add new friends and family contacts in memory of and on behalf of their deceased friend. Importantly, a user can also indicate whether or not they’d like a copy of their Facebook data to be downloaded by their assigned contact or alternatively instruct Facebook to delete their account after their death.

For everyone else, Facebook memorialisation is an option but this process can pose issues as guest blogger Nicole Wright points out. Here are some thoughts on how to preserve your personal history and avoid it from being lost or locked into the social networking site, so you can reminisce over fond memories in years from now and also share these with your loved ones when your time comes.

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