Digital Estate Planning
May 1, 2015 If you think about your daily activities, you will realize how much the digital realm affects things you do on a daily or a periodic basis.
Persons working in the area of estates and probate hear many stories from time to time about how the death of an individual affects other persons in the household because of the loss of digital information necessary to conduct daily affairs.
I have prepared a digital estate planning guide in printed form which may assist an individual in identifying those items of digital information which may be necessary in the event of a death or an incapacity. NOTE: the guide will be revised soon – during the first part of 2016, but the current version may be obtained as stated below.
Hardware. The first section of that planning guide is concerned with digital hardware. Think of the different items of electronic hardware which you use, many of which require passwords. There are desktops, laptops, telephones, and tablets. There may be passwords to get into those machines. There may also be passwords to load the operating systems. There can even be passwords to access hardware storage such as disks or encrypted USB thumb drives. If these passwords are not available, then the hardware cannot be accessed.
Software. Following that is a section on digital software. There may be installation files that someone may need to repair a damaged installation. There may be registration data including serial numbers, keys to access installation files, user names to activate software, or user names and keys to log on to accounts at a software manufacturer’s website. This information will be lost if not organized and kept.
Infrastructure. There may be local area networks (LANS) which need to be accessed such as networks in your home, wired networks, wireless modem networks, home servers, and other machines. If a person does not have the administration usernames and passwords to access these facilities, the home networking system may not be accessible.
Internet access. The fourth area is Internet access accounts. There are inclusive accounts such as Google Drive, Windows Live, and other omnibus inclusive accounts that a person may have for either personal or small business purposes. To access these accounts there are access names and passwords. There may be monies due for subscriptions on a periodic basis, and other aspects of these accounts for which access is needed but cannot be accomplished without usernames and passwords. There is information in these accounts which may or may not need to be maintained after a person’s death or incapacity. Instructions with regard to that maintenance or destruction should be available in addition to the access credentials to access the accounts themselves.
The cloud. There may be other cloud storage accounts from numerous service providers for which information would be necessary such as names, access names, passwords, etc.
Email. Email accounts require the same considerations. Many people keep financial data in their email accounts and those email accounts cannot be accessed without names and passwords. Some email providers have inactivity rules whereby if an email account is not accessed for a certain period of time, the information will be destroyed. There may also be email destruction rules which the user previously put in place. Therefore, if persons who need to access the accounts cannot do so, the data may be irretrievably lost after timeframes as short as 30 days.
Financial accounts. Another obvious area where information is needed is from financial accounts such as checking, savings, IRS, retirement, credit cards, points accumulation sites, etc. Data regarding these accounts are critical and the data cannot be accessed without access names and passwords. The mere existence of the accounts may not be known unless the person opening the accounts leaves a roadmap behind telling people where the accounts are located and how to access them.
Photographs. Another online area of concern is photo accounts where photographs may be stored. Music accounts, shopping accounts, travel accounts, all of these types of accounts may have information necessary for survivors or close relatives. One should also leave instructions regarding how these music and photo accounts should be maintained or destroyed, depending upon the account holder’s desires.
Automatic payments. Other accounts of this nature involve creditors which debit your assets online, such as recurring payment accounts. Details regarding these accounts should be left in an organized fashion so subscriptions can be cancelled, etc. There may be prepaid accounts and other subscriptions for which knowledge would be necessary, either to cancel and receive a rebate, or take advantage of the services offered.
Social Another area is social and web distribution assets. Consideration to all of these particular types of assets should be given because the accounts contain information, and that information must either be destroyed or maintained according to the account holder’s desires.
All these considerations are often overlooked because people assume that they will be around to “log-on” and do not consider the consequences if they are unable to do so.
As mentioned at the beginning of this work, there is a digital estate planning guide form which I have devised for your use, for educational and personal use only, to guide you in consideration of these areas. It can be obtained at the Probate Court Office, 100 West Courthouse Square, Cumming, Georgia 30040.
[It will also be posted on this site – but I have not decided to go ahead and post or wait until I make some enhancements which I have been considering.]