“Online, we generate lots of assets, but we don’t think of them as assets,” says Eric Goldman, a professor of law and director of the High Tech Law Institute at Santa Clara University School of Law in California. “We don’t manage them as assets. We create content. We create data. We develop relationships. All of those things are valuable but we don’t value them as valuable assets.”
Recent studies reveal that 92% of Americans and 73% of Europeans have an online presence by the age of two: http://commcns.org/SQmMdD. And its no wonder. There are over 5 billion photos on Flickr, hundreds of thousands of videos uploaded to YouTube every day, 500+ million Facebook users and over 2 million tweets every month.
Electronic bank, investment and shopping accounts, e-mail records, social media accounts, cloud computing and cloud data storage together with ongoing technological advancements are accelerating the importance of the role of digitalisation in our lives.
As we digitalise our lives we need to consider digital estate planning for our digital assets including; personal, financial, business and social media assets.
The authors of ‘Virtual Assets’, ST003 ALA-ABA 175, Michael Walker & Victoria Blachly have identified 8 steps the executor of a deceased estate should consider when managing a deceased’s digital world,
1 seek technical assistance
2 work on consolidating virtual assets to as few “platforms” as possible (eg; have multiple email accounts forwarded to a single account)
3 obtain statements for past 12 months of the deceased’s online financial accounts
4 consider notifying individuals in the deceased’s e-mail contact list and other social media contacts
5 change passwords to one the executor can control
6 keep all accounts open for at least a period of time to make sure all relevant or valuable information has been saved and all vendors or other business contacts have been appropriately notified, and so all payables can be paid and accounts receivable have been collected.
7 remove all private and/or personal data from online shopping accounts (or close them as soon as possible)
8 the executor should plan on archiving important electronic date for the full duration of the relevant statutes of limitations
Its never that easy though, as website service agreements vary greatly and often inhibit the proper management of a deceased’s digital assets. When I last undertook a survey;
• Yahoo! considers a deceased’s account to be protected by the privacy laws and you need to take legal action to access emails
• Microsoft’s Hotmail will grant access if the request is accompanied by a copy of a death certificate and verification of the executor’s authority
• Google usually doesn’t allow access to Gmail and reserves the right to terminate the account after 9 months
• Facebook places a deceased’s account into “memorial state”. Only confirmed friends can locate and post on the deceased’s wall. Facebook will usually remove the account if appropriate documentation is produced
• Myspace refuses access as they consider the account to dies with the user
• Twitter will remove an account from its “Who to Follow” suggestions and an executor can obtain a backup of all the deceased’s public tweets
• YouTube grant access to properly authorised executors / power of attorneys
Do not rely on this summary without doing an update search as the attitude of the website providers is changing over time and their terms are evolving.
Please share with me any problems you, family or friends have experienced with website managers on the passing of a loved one.
I will publish further blogs on this topic in the near future.
For more information about how things are developing in the US se “What Happens When We Die: Esate Planning of Digital Assets” by Maria Perrone, May 2013, Columbus School of Law.
While searching the internet for new estate planning ideas I stumbled a upon selection of unusual Wills I’d like to share with you.
Last Wish: That his wife receive his “second best bed”.
This last request of Shakespeare has caused much speculation about his relationship with his wife Anne Hathaway. Not only was it an unusual request, it was tacked on to the document as if it were an afterthought. Leaving a bed to someone was not itself an unusual thing at the time – as a good quality bed with no fleas or vermin was a highly prized – and very expensive – thing. Adding further to the debate was the epitaph that Shakespeare left on his grave: “Blest be the man that spares these stones, / And cursed by he that moves my bones.” While some say Shakespeare meant it to frighten grave robbers, the wording was taken so seriously that when his wife died 7 years later, they would not allow her body to be placed with his.
Last Wish: That in a democracy, his daughter not engage in “the expensive, vain and useless pastime of wearing jewels.”
Benjamin Franklin was one of the most admired men in the Western world in the late 18th century. The reason for his odd request was that as former ambassador to France, Franklin was given a portrait of King Louis XVI in a frame studded with 408 diamonds. He left this picture and frame to his daughter Sarah with the above proviso to prevent her from removing the diamonds from the frame to make jewelry.
John B Kelly
Last Wish: That the clothing bills of his daughter, Princess Grace, not bankrupt the principality of Monaco.
Kelly was a multimillionaire contractor who was a triple Olympic Gold Medal winner. His actress daughter (Grace Kelly) married into the royal family of Monaco. His will was his last laugh at the good-humored expense of his family. Some of the various amusing sections are:
[To my son John,] all my personal belongings, such as trophies, rings, jewelry, watches, clothing and athletic equipment, except the ties, shirts, sweaters and socks, as it seems unnecessary to give him something of which he has already taken possession.
He left nothing to his son in law, Prince Rainier of Monaco, stating:
I don’t want to give the impression that I am against sons-in-law. If they are the right type, they will provide for themselves and their families, and what I am able to give my daughters will help pay the dress shop bills, which, if they continue as they started out, under the able tutelage of their mother, will be quite considerable.
Last Wish: That his wife hold an annual seance so he could reveal himself to her.
Houdini in his later life became very interested in spiritualism and seances because of the great loss he felt upon the death of his mother. After a number of years trying to communicate with her through spiritualists, he gave up – deciding the whole thing was bunkum. In order to prove it, Houdini left his wife a secret note with 10 randomly selected words that he would communicate to her after his death. For 10 years his wife held a seance on Halloween; Houdini never turned up.
Last Wish: That his head be shaved and the hair divided up amongst his friends.
In a strange twist to the tale, a recent analysis of some of the hair that was kept by his friends, it was discovered that it contained large amounts of arsenic. His symptoms prior to death (vomiting dried blood) is consistent with arsenic poisoning. There is some speculation that the walls of his room contained arsenic (not uncommon at the time) and that it was his environment that killed him, but others believe that he was being slowly poisoned by the English. In fact, due to his stomach cancer, his doctor was also prescribing him another type of poison which contributed to his final demise.
Last Wish: That anyone who could prove “that he or she is a child of mine [receive] the sum of one dollar. I hereby declare that any such asserted claim […] would be utterly false.”
Hearst was an American newspaper magnate and leading newspaper publisher. The son of self-made millionaire George Hearst, he became aware that his father received a northern California newspaper, The San Francisco Examiner, as payment of a gambling debt. He asked his father to give him the paper to run and he eventually built for himself a multi-million dollar empire. Hearst was the grandfather of Patty Hearst.
Last Wish: For dinner to be prepared every night after his death in case he came back to life.
Bowman’s wife and two daughters had died before him and he became convinced that when he died, his entire family would be reincarnated together. Driven by this odd belief, he set up a trust worth $50,000 to pay servants to keep up the housework in his 21 room mansion. He also requested that a daily meal be prepared in case the family returned hungry. The will was honored until the trust ran out of funds in 1950.
When S. Sanborn, an American hatmaker, died in 1871, he left his body to science, bequeathing it to Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., (then a professor of anatomy at Harvard Medical School) and one of Holmes’s colleagues. The will stipulated that two drums were to be made out of Sanborn’s skin and given to a friend on the condition that every June 17 at dawn he would pound out the tune “Yankee Doodle” at Bunker Hill to commemorate the anniversary of the famous Revolutionary War battle. The rest of his body was “to be composted for a fertilizer to contribute to the growth of an American elm, to be planted in some rural thoroughfare.”
Vermont tanner John Bowman believed that after his death, he, his dead wife, and two daughters would be reincarnated together. When he died in 1891, his will provided a $50,000 trust fund for the maintenance of his 21-room mansion and mausoleum. The will required servants to serve dinner every night just in case the Bowmans were hungry when they returned from the dead. This stipulation was carried out until 1950, when the trust money ran out.
Janis Joplin was born in Port Arthur, Texas, on January 19, 1943. In her brief career as a rock and blues singer, she recorded four albums containing a number of rock classics, including “Piece of My Heart,” “To Love Somebody,” and “Me and Bobby McGee.” Known for her heavy drinking and drug use, she died of an overdose on October 4, 1970.
Janis made changes to her will just two days before her death. She set aside $2,500 to pay for a posthumous all-night party for 200 guests at her favorite pub in San Anselmo, California, “so my friends can get blasted after I’m gone.” The bulk of her estate reportedly went to her parents.
Thank you Jamie Frater of Listverse for putting together much of this list.