Legacy Tips #5-9: 5 ways to make sure your digital life is not locked up online (podcast)

facebook_digital_afterlife_what_happens_when_someone_diesAway For A Bit spoke with Damien Carrick on ABC Radio National on legal and practical considerations for managing a digital afterlife and legacy.

Gaining access to an individual’s online accounts (social networking, email) after they die is often impossible, although in some cases, next of kin have fought for access via the courts. As the podcast demonstrates, they do not always win.

Here are five recommendations from the podcast to avoid your digital life from being locked up online.

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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 Tips: how to preserve your digital life and memories

Legacy tips - preserving digital life & memoriesThink forward 100 years in time. How would you like to be remembered by your family of the future? What is the lasting legacy that you want to leave behind within your communities? Are there memories you’d like to pass on as a record of how you lived and what you experienced? Traditions you’d like to share?

For some people, the value of legacy is sharing words of wisdom from experiences they’ve gained through the course of their life. One reader recently wrote to me about how he is digitising photos and correspondence that he’d received from his parents following the death of his father.

“Death erases people,” he told me. “I don’t want my Dad to be erased. There are lessons that he taught me that I want to pass on to my children for them to pass on in turn to theirs if they choose. A good start is having those recorded somewhere.”

The reality is much of our correspondence and memories — including photos –are tied up in email, social channels and across myriad online accounts. According to a recent survey, three quarters of Brits believe that physical letters and notes are the most heartfelt way to communicate but the reality is that we mostly communicate online these days, our histories now often guarded behind walls that we have to sign up to and into. And these digital assets are subject to different legal ownership rules that often digress from the laws we apply to dealing with our physical property.

Over the next few weeks, Away For A Bit will post a series of 50 Legacy Tips, short features that will provide practical guidance on how to archive and preserve your important online memories and history for future generations and for yourself so that these are not lost to the fast paced changes of the digital service industry. If you have any questions or suggestions for the series, drop a line to emily@awayforabit.com.

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

Three important reasons to plan and organize your digital afterlife

Emily Baxter from www.awayforabit.com offers her views on why it’s important to plan a digital estate as part of a featured post on PassingBye. Read the full feature on PassingBye…

We spend a lot of time online. If recent reports are to be believed, Australians spend close to one day a week online while the Brits are estimated to spend one day every fortnight on the same activity. In the US, it is thought that the average user spends closer to two days per week either on mobile or digital media.

Which ever way you look at it, that’s a lot of time spent online which is spent communicating with others on social, commenting online, banking, shopping…. Then there’s the plethora of accounts and communities that a user signs up for. For instance, people on average have at least two email accounts and depending on the research you read, about twenty five apps that they have downloaded onto their phones. That is a significant number of companies and communities that individuals are engaging with.

Given the general trends of more time spent in the digital universe, it’s worth thinking about the footprint you will leave behind when the time comes. Here are three important reasons to consider planning and organising your digital afterlife.

Ownership of digital assets are not automatically transferable to next of kin

Who actually owns digital assets is a key yet unclear issue in today’s estate and legacy planning as a recent news story with Apple highlighted. There was a hoax story a while ago in which Bruce Willis was suing Apple because he wouldn’t be able to pass his extensive iTunes collection on to his children when he died. The story was bogus but as Paul Gordon, Associate for Finlaysons, a national law firm in Australia points out, the issue is real.

“Often when you ‘buy’ music online what you are actually acquiring is a licence to listen to it, rather than buying the song itself,” Gordon points out. “That licence may come with restrictions and may not be passed onto your next of kin when you die (i.e. a ‘personal’ contract). These issues aren’t going to go away and I’m sure will come before the courts in the coming years.”

Digital providers will not just hand over access to personal data or information of the deceased unless there’s a legal requirement to do so as their position is to defend the privacy of the account holder, in death as in life.

Damin Murdock, Principal Lawyer of the MurdockCheng Legal Practice based in Sydney suggests that when writing up a will, individuals remove any ambiguity about how they want their digital information dealt with upon their death.

It’s also recommended that you identify a system for storing sensitive information confidentially that can be passed on to next of kin. There are many options for doing this, involving legal representation, an online service or both.

Digital memories don’t last forever

It’s important to plan to capture memories and conversations as part of digital legacy and estate planning. Our new digital identities mostly exist in the hands of third parties and for many these days, memories reside in email and social media. Our mementos of events are digital photographs, or a casual comment posted online. These seem fleeting in the moment but can quickly gain significance as life changes occur. While we assume their digital nature makes them always accessible, they may not end up being everlasting.

Recently I wrote about how I’ve changed email accounts from Caramail to Hotmail to Yahoo to Gmail for social use – in the last fifteen years. Unfortunately, when trying to look back at past conversations, some of these accounts are now lost or no longer accessible which means that a large swath of my history is lost, not only to myself but to anyone who I might have passed a curated version to.

Today Facebook and Gmail might seem immortal, but there’s every reason to question whether they’ll still be around in a decade. Or whether they’ll make it easy to uncover these past memories. Their purpose may be entirely different.

The speed in which technology platforms change means that it’s important to have a way of archiving conversations as they happen. While I’m not suggesting that every single personal email conversation must be stored, this recent experience has highlighted the value of a system to continually capture personal messages and notes.

Digital gives you the opportunity to shape your legacy

The explosion of digital services means that there’s a wealth of opportunity for every person to shape their legacy and the way that they would like to be remembered. For instance, services offering the ability to leave personal messages for next of kin to communicate last wishes or words of comfort, can provide tremendous support. It’s a reminder that they were loved.

At the same time, people often have an insatiable desire to find out more about loved ones who have died, even if they believe they know them well in the first place. It’s common to hear stories of mourners piecing together strands of a life story in the same way they would a jigsaw puzzle by looking through old photos or having conversations with friends or family of the person who has died.

A digital afterlife plan which includes memories and mementos, photos or correspondence can help next of kin, family and close friends to remember the good times and provide support in what will likely be a tough, emotional time.

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This feature was originally posted on PassingBye.

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