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 #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.

digital_afterlife_password_security

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?”

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.

If a will is drafted on a mobile phone, is it valid?

digital afterlife or legacy on phone

Credit: Michal Zacharzewski, SXC

According to this recent blog post by IdeaLaw, the answer is “yes, it can be!” There has been a case in Queensland already in which the court ruled that a will drafted on an iPhone was valid.

Three elements need to be satisfied for a court to find an informal will valid.

1) That it is a document
2) That the document states the deceased’s intentions for their estate after their death
3) That the deceased intended the document to be a will

Which leads to an important question.

Are there or could there be wills drafted on social networking sites or within an email inbox that could be declared valid in the future?

IdeaLaw proposes that this could be so if these above elements can be demonstrated. Read their blog post for a legal perspective on the Queensland example and potential consequences in layman’s terms.

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