Protecting Digital Assets After You Die
—By Marc Pinney
Few people realize how important it can be to have a plan in place for your loved ones to access your digital assets after death. As our world moves further and further away from local storage and more into the cloud, it is more important now than it has ever been to ensure you have a plan. The companies who hold your data know that you expect total privacy. This doesn’t change with your death. But aside from saving your pictures and digital purchases, there are many practical reasons to ensure your loved ones can access your data. Many of your current services have online accounts and automatically charge you each month. Cryptocurrency is also an emerging asset that many people own. And, even our utilities managed mostly on-line. Allowing a loved one the ability to reset passwords and login to accounts will help them manage your affairs and prevent unnecessary waste of assets.
When my wife died unexpectedly, I had many of these issues to contend with. She had subscribed to certain apps and services both in her personal and business life. Her cloud accounts contained some of our most precious pictures of our children. Luckily, we always shared our phone’s passwords with one another. Even though I didn’t have other passwords, the phone gave me access to her email from where I was able to reset most of the other accounts I needed to access. I was lucky. The loss of my wife could have been compounded if I had also lost all of the pictures. When I decided that lawyers should view estate planning differently, I knew that a key to a modern plan had to involve dealing with the digital assets we all leave behind.
While I routinely protect my client’s digital information, there are practical steps you can take whether you hire a lawyer or not.
1. Your Phone is the Most Important Password to Share
Our modern life has our phone at the center. In the United States, there are basically two types of phones: iPhone or Android. More than 50% of the smart phones are iPhone. Unfortunately, iPhone’s are almost impossible to access without the password. Each phone’s password is only stored inside that phone saved on a built-in, encrypted, flash memory chip. The password is never sent to a big password database at Apple or anywhere else. Only the user—and those they share it with—know the phone’s password. Android devices tend to be a little more possible to break into, but not always. Both Apple and Google offer cloud services that may house some of the information, but accessing it may be cumbersome.
Because your phone is such an important portal into your digital life, we recommend that our clients share the passwords among spouses and keep a written copy of the phone’s password in their estate planning organizer.
2. Create and Maintain a Password List
For your electronic assets your loved ones must not only be able to locate these items, they must also know how to access them. Given this, you should create a list that includes any related login and password information along with instructions for accessing the accounts. Common places to keep this list would be with your estate plan, other important papers, in a file cabinet, safe, or safety deposit box.
Another trick, if you might have trouble keeping your list current is to use a digital password manager. There are many great programs or “apps” you can use to keep a current list of passwords. Some of the best are: Keeper, Bitwarden, Dashlane, LastPass, and 1Password. If you decide to use one of these digital managers to keep your passwords, you should keep login information in a place where your loved ones can find it. For clients who choose this option we recommend keeping a written copy of the phone password and information on how to access the digital password manager.
3. Develop a Plan for Social Media
Some of our most cherished events, memories, and pictures are shared with our friends and family over social media. The social network companies, though, do a great deal to protect our data. This can become a problem once you pass on.
Facebook allows for the account of a deceased person to be converted to a “memorial account.” After you die, friends and family can still see your wall, post, and share memories. You have the option in your Facebook settings to choose a legacy contact and to tell Facebook what you want to happen when you die. The legacy contact is able to moderate the account, memorialize it, and download a copy. The power to delete may be limited by your choices in settings.. Once Facebook memorializes the account, no one can access past private messages, or add/delete friends. Even if you don’t designate a legacy contact, verified immediate family members can request to have the account memorialized or deleted by contacting support.
Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, deals with memorial accounts in a similar way, except you cannot designate a legacy contact.
Twitter doesn’t have an option for a memorial account, nor will they share login information with a deceased user’s family. Given notice, Twitter will deactivate the account. To do this, the family must work with Twitter Support and provide documentation. If your loved one has the password, they can just login and deactivate it.
LinkedIn will also memorialize an account. Estate representatives have the power to request that an account be memorialized or closed. If there is no representative, your family can only report that you have died. Once an account is memorialized, access to the account is locked. Memorial accounts still allow connections to engage with the posts, articles, and other content you created.
How We Can Help You
At the Pinney Law Firm, we offer a comprehensive planning session to help you begin the process of getting your digital, legal and financial life in order. Regardless of whether you hire us or not, you will walk out of the session more educated and organized than ever. And, if you hire us, we can prepare a comprehensive plan that ensures that your digital assets are fully protected and your loved ones do not suffer any unnecessary burden. We offer this session for a reduced fee. And, if you decide to do planning with our firm, the fee is waived altogether. Call us now at 281-425-1300 or click here to schedule your planning session today.
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