Today, estate planning encompasses not just tangible property like finances and real estate, but also digital assets like cryptocurrency, blogs, and social media. With so much of our lives now lived online, it’s vital you put the proper estate planning provisions in place to ensure your digital assets are effectively protected and passed on in the event of your incapacity or death.

Last week I discussed some of the most common types of digital assets and the legal landscape surrounding them. Here, I offer some practical tips to ensure all your digital property is effectively incorporated into your estate plan.

Best practices for including digital assets in your estate plan
If you’re like most people, you probably own numerous digital assets, some of which likely have significant monetary and/or sentimental value. Other types of online property may have no value for anyone other than yourself or be something you’d prefer your family and friends not access or inherit.

To ensure all your digital assets are accounted for, managed, and passed on in exactly the way you want, you should take the following steps:

  1. Create an inventory: Start by creating a list of all your digital assets, including the related login information and passwords. Password management apps such as LastPass can help simplify this effort. From there, store the list in a secure location, and provide detailed instructions to your fiduciary about how to access it and get into the accounts. Just like money you’ve hidden in a safe, if no one knows where it is or how to unlock it, these assets will likely be lost forever.
  2. Add your digital assets to your estate plan: Include specific instructions in your will, trust, and/or other estate planning documents about the heir(s) you want to inherit each asset, along with how you’d like the accounts managed in the future, if that’s an option. Some assets might be of no value to your family or be something you don’t want them to access, so you should specify that those accounts and files be closed and/or deleted by your fiduciary.

    Do NOT provide the specific account info, logins, or passwords in your estate planning documents, which can be easily read by others. This is especially true for wills, which become public record upon your death. Keep this information stored in a secure place, and let your fiduciary know how to find and use it.

  3. Limit access: In your plan, you should also include instructions for your fiduciary about what level of access you want him or her to have. For example, do you want your executor to be able to read all your emails and social media posts before deleting them or passing them on to your heirs? If there are any assets you want to limit access to, we can help you include the necessary terms in your plan to ensure your privacy is honored.
  4. Check service providers’ access-authorization tools: Carefully review the terms and conditions for your online accounts. Some service providers like Google, Facebook, and Instagram have tools in place that allow you to easily designate access to others in the event of your death. If such a function is offered, use it to document who you want to have access to these accounts.

Truly comprehensive estate planning

With technology rapidly evolving, it’s critical that your estate planning strategies evolve at the same time to adapt to this changing environment. That’s why your estate plan should include not only your physical wealth and property, but all your digital assets, too.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

If you’ve created an estate plan, it likely includes traditional assets like finances, real estate, personal property, and family heirlooms. But unless your plan also includes your digital assets, there’s a good chance this online property will be lost forever following your death or incapacity.

What’s more, even if these assets are included in your plan, unless your executor and/or trustee knows the accounts exist and how to access them, you risk burdening your family and friends with the often lengthy and expensive process of locating and accessing them. And depending on the terms of service governing your online accounts, your heirs may not be able to inherit some types of these digital assets at all.

With our lives increasingly being lived online, our digital assets can be quite extensive and extremely valuable. Given this, it’s more important than ever that your estate plan includes detailed provisions to protect and pass on such property in the event of your incapacity or death.

Types of digital assets
Digital assets generally fall into two categories: those with financial value and those with sentimental value.

Those with financial value typically include cryptocurrency like Bitcoin, online payment accounts like PayPal, domain names, websites and blogs generating revenue, as well as other works like photos, videos, music, and writing that generate royalties. Such assets have real financial worth for your heirs, not only in the immediate aftermath of your death or incapacity, but potentially for years to come.

Digital assets with sentimental value include email accounts, photos, video, music, publications, social media accounts, apps, and websites or blogs with no revenue potential. While this type of property typically won’t be of any monetary value, it can offer incredible sentimental value and comfort for your family when you’re no longer around.

Owned vs licensed
Though you might not know it, you don’t actually own many of your digital assets at all. For example, you do own certain assets like cryptocurrency and PayPal accounts, so you can transfer ownership of these in a will or trust. But when you purchase some digital property, such as Kindle e-books and iTunes music files, all you really own is a license to use it. And in many cases, that license is for your personal use only and is non-transferable.

Whether or not you can transfer such licensed property depends almost entirely on

the account’s Terms of Service Agreements (TOSA) to which you agreed (or more likely, simply clicked a box without reading) upon opening the account. While many TOSA restrict access to accounts only to the original user, some allow access by heirs or executors in certain situations, while others say nothing about transferability.

Carefully review the TOSA of your online accounts to see whether you own the asset itself or just a license to use it. If the TOSA states the asset is licensed, not owned, and offers no method for transferring your license, you’ll likely have no way to pass the asset to anyone else, even if it’s included in your estate plan.

To make matters more complicated, though you heirs may be able to access your digital assets if you’ve provided them with your account login and passwords, doing so may actually violate the TOSA and/or privacy laws. In order to legally access such accounts, your heirs will have to prove they have the right to access it, a process which up until recently was a major legal grey area.

Fortunately, through AB-691 (the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act), California now authorizes a decedent’s personal representative or trustee to access and manage digital assets and electronic communications – as long as it’s clear in your estate plan that you are authorizing this power.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

If you’re active on social media, Facebook probably plays a prominent role in your life. And now the social media titan can even play a role in your afterlife.

Today, estate planning encompasses not only your tangible assets—bank accounts and real estate—but your digital assets as well, such as cryptocurrency, websites, and social media accounts. Though social media may seem trivial compared to the rest of your personal property, a Facebook account functions as a virtual diary of your daily life, making it a key part of your legacy—and one you’ll likely want to protect.

Because social media is so new, there are very few state laws governing how your Facebook account should be handled upon your death. Considering this, Facebook itself is in nearly total control of what happens to your profile after you die. And since roughly 8,000 Facebook users die every day, the company has created a few options for dealing with your account once you’re gone:

1. Do nothing
Unless Facebook is notified of your death, it assumes you’re still alive, and your profile remains active indefinitely. While this might not seem like a big deal, your profile will continue to be included in Facebook searches, People You May Know suggestions, and birthday reminders.

Your friends and family likely won’t want to be constantly reminded of your absence, and even worse, ex-friends and/or trolls will be able to post potentially hurtful messages on your timeline. To shield your loved ones from this kind of thing, consider going with one of the other options.

2. Have the account deleted
You can notify Facebook that you’d like to have your account permanently removed from its servers upon your passing. Alternatively, a friend, family member, or your executor can make the same request after your death. This will completely delete your profile and all its associated content from Facebook for good.

Additionally, one of these individuals can request that your account’s content be downloaded and saved before the profile is deleted. Content that’s eligible for download includes wall posts, photos, videos, profile info, events, and your friend list. However, Facebook will not allow any third-party to access or download your personal messages or login information.

3. Memorialize the account
In 2009, Facebook began allowing accounts of the deceased to be “memorialized” at the request of a friend or family member. Once an account has been memorialized, only confirmed friends can see the profile or find it in a search. Your memorialized profile will no longer appear in friend suggestions, nor will anyone receive birthday updates or other account notifications.

When your account is memorialized, the word “Remembering” will be added next to your name on your profile. Depending on your privacy settings, friends and family members can post content and share memories on your timeline. A memorialized account is locked, so its original content cannot be altered or removed, even if an individual has your login info.

In 2015, Facebook created a new policy that allows you to designate a family member or friend as a “legacy contact” to manage your memorialized account. This contact will be allowed to pin a final message to the top of your timeline, announcing your death or providing funeral information. The contact can also respond to new friend requests and update your cover and profile photos. The legacy contact will not be able to log in as you or see any of your private messages.

Preserve your legacy
Since social media and other digital property are such an important part of your life, you should ensure these assets are protected by your overall estate plan.

Furthermore, through our Legacy Interviews, we allow you to create a customized video recording, sharing your values, stories, and life lessons with the loved ones you leave behind. Every estate plan we create includes this component, because estate planning should encompass not only your financial assets and material possessions, but your most precious personal wealth—your wisdom, love, and family leadership. Contact us today to learn more.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

Digital Asset Protection 91024As our lives become increasingly intertwined with the internet, more and more of our assets are developing in, or converting to, the digital world. We own email accounts, domain names, hosting accounts, blogs, social media accounts, cloud storage, apps, ebook libraries, and more. As such, a big part of my job is educating clients on how to preserve and manage the digital assets of their loved ones when they die or become incapacitated.

It’s no surprise Facebook also understands the emerging importance of digital assets and just released an exciting new tool to help friends and family manage the wall and profile of a deceased Facebook user. Before this change there were only two options: 1) Keep the page public, in which case anyone could post on the user’s wall, or 2) have the page “memorialized” so only “friends” of the user could post on the wall. But either way, without the user’s password loved ones could not accept new friend requests, update pictures, or pin important information on the user’s wall.

Last week, however, Facebook announced they will begin to allow a designated agent to manage a deceased user’s page, wall, and profile. From now on all Facebook user’s will have the option to choose a “legacy contact” – a family member or friend the user wants to be able to manage their account after they pass away. Alternately, a user can opt to have their Facebook account deleted immediately after they die.

This is what Facebook had to say:

Today we’re introducing a new feature that lets people choose a legacy
contact-a family member or friend who can manage their account
when they pass away. Once
someone lets us know that a person has
passed away, we will memorialize the account and the legacy contact
will be able to:

  • Write a post to display at the top of the memorialized Timeline (for
    example, to announce a memorial service or share a special message)
  • Respond to new friend requests from family members and friends
    who were not yet connected on Facebook
  • Update the profile picture and cover photo

If someone chooses, they may give their legacy contact permission to
download an archive of the photos, posts and profile information they
shared on Facebook. Other settings will remain the same as before the
account was memorialized. The legacy contact will not be able to log in
as the person who passed away or see that person’s private messages.

Alternatively, people can let us know if they’d prefer to have their Facebook
account permanently deleted after death.

If you are a Facebook user, you can make a loved one your legacy contact by following these simple steps:

  1. Log into your Facebook account and open Settings.
  2. Choose Securityand then Legacy Contact at the bottom of the page.
  3. After naming your legacy contact, you’ll have the option to send them a personal message.

To you family’s health, wealth, and happiness,
Marc Garlett 91024

Digital Asset Protection 91024Take a moment and consider how much of your life you live online. If you are like me, you bank, pay bills, make purchases, connect with friends, and conduct business online (in fact, I even met my wife online)! Now think about all the digital assets you have accumulated – account information, passwords, emails, photos, videos, etc. But what happens to all of it when we die?

Since you will not be around anymore, you may not care. But chances are good your loved ones will. There have been many stories of families trying to get access to a deceased family member’s photos and emails on social media sites – in fact, there have been so many requests that most of these sites now have policies in place for family to gain access or deactivate online accounts:

Google. Last year, Google unveiled its Inactive Account Manager, which allows users to choose to name a beneficiary for their online account activity on all Google sites (which includes YouTube) or to delete it after a set amount of time passes during which the account is inactive.

Facebook. Facebook allows family members to request that a decedent’s account be deleted or provides them with an option to “memorialize” the decedent’s page so it stays up, but is essentially frozen in time. Facebook requires you to provide a death certificate or a published obituary to accomplish this.

LinkedIn. LinkedIn provides an online form to remove a deceased member’s profile page from the site. You will need to furnish the member’s name, email address, the URL to their LinkedIn profile and some other information as well as a link to their online obituary.

Twitter. You must email Twitter a request to delete the account of a family member who has passed and mail them a copy of the death certificate, the obituary as well as a copy of your ID and proof that the decedent owned the account if his or her Twitter handle is different from their given name.

Yahoo. You can have an account deleted by providing Yahoo with paper copies of the death certificate and the document appointing you are the executor of the estate or personal representative of the deceased along with a letter furnishing the Yahoo ID of the decedent and your request that the account be deleted. Yahoo will not transfer or preserve any data in the account.

But why make your loved ones jump through hoops to deal with your digital assets? You can take care of it yourself with these three simple steps:

List all your digital assets. You may already have a list of all your online accounts and passwords (who can remember them all?) so you’re halfway there. Add to that a list of documents on your computer as well as photos and other data that may be stored on backup or flash drives.

Decide to keep or delete. Not everyone wants their family to have access to all their digital files, so review your list and decide which files are worth preserving and which ones can be deleted. Then tell your family.

Designate a digital executor. If you have already named an executor in your estate plan, you may want the same person to handle the disposition of your digital assets. If not, then designate someone in your will to handle this task. Do NOT include your accounts and passwords in your will! A will is a public document and this private information can easily be stolen.

To talk about digital asset protection or estate planning in general, call our office today. Be one of the first two readers to mention this article and we’ll waive our normal planning fee (a $750 value). As the holiday season approaches, there really is no better gift you can give yourself and your family.

To you family’s health, wealth, and happiness,
Signature - Marc