Our Digital Legacy. Our Digital what ?

Rod Cunich preferred (2)

“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.



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