Sharing passwords won’t work with two-factor authentication or biometrics. What now?
The stories of families figuring out how to access their loved one’s digital life are just beginning. Here are just two:
A professional man works diligently to create an estate plan, doing everything necessary to protect his wife. Then he commits suicide. After the initial shock wears off, as his widow is starting to address his estate, she realizes that the estate plan has made no provision for his digital life, which is considerable. It takes more than a year to untangle his accounts.
A man keeps his business records on AOL (we know, we know). He dies unexpectedly, and no one else has access to his digital accounts. Here’s the problem: his business records are interviews with court experts for million dollar lawsuits. They are worth about $600,000. But if an AOL account is not accessed in twelve months, or the account is used in a way that violates the Terms of Service Agreement, it may be removed or become inaccessible.
Families dealing with the grief of losing a loved one today have more than an attic to clean out. They have what feels like an endless journey of unpacking a digital life. The issue of a digital afterlife is relatively new, so there are few protocols in place. There are a few things we do know:
Most every digital account includes Terms of Service Agreement (TOSA), which we all click on to get out of the way before using an app or opening a new account. Most TOSAs include language about fraud, who owns the platform and the data in the accounts, sharing passwords and hacking. If someone tries to get into the account and it doesn’t work, there is a chance that the account and all of the data could be permanently deleted.
Few service providers now have a process for users to name a designated person to be allowed to transfer the digital asset through the use of a directive, but they may not be “estate-friendly.” In fact, they may create even more headaches for representatives and heirs.
Almost every state has passed a version of a new law developed to address digital assets. The new laws, RUFADAA (Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act), have started to raise awareness of the value and need to protect digital assets. But there has to be a plan for digital assets.
What is a digital asset? They include emails, photos, cryptocurrency, gaming accounts, financial accounts and texts and much more.
Here are some steps to get started:
- Google has a process, Inactive Account Manager, to allow an account owner to name people to manage their data after they have died, but you should recognize that using it may not be in the best interest of the estate resulting in delays or loss of data.
- Facebook lets you choose a legacy contact to manage your account after you die, but note that this does not provide for the disclosure of an account’s contents.
- For hardware like an iPhone, users need to write down the code, pattern or password, but be aware that doing anything other than looking at the device and looking at files (not communications) is the only thing that can be done legally. Otherwise, this can be construed as an invasion of privacy. If anyone other than the device owner tries to access accounts, it may be regarded as hacking.
For now, few social media platforms, bank accounts, subscriptions, gaming platforms, etc. have digital asset directives set up.
To protect decades of memories, including contact information, intellectual property, photos and digital property, users need to provide each digital property account with a “directive” – clear instructions on who is permitted to take action on your behalf and what is desired to be done with the digital property. The username and demonstration of the relationship to the URL for each digital property will be needed as well.
Where to begin to create your digital property plan?
Make a list of all of your digital accounts. Include the account URL, username, a brief description, estimate the value and consider who you would want to be in charge of it when you die. Also, what do you want them to do with the data?
Go to each website and search for a means of conveying your directive online. By the tenth website, if you’ve had enough, visit www.directivecommunications.com. You’ll find an entire platform dedicated to protecting digital assets through the proper legal use of directives. We’ve devoted years to creating and streamlining and improving this process, so that you don’t have to struggle to do the right thing, for yourself and your loved ones.
Call it digital estate management, digital property, digital directives: whatever it’s called, this is something every person with a digital footprint needs to address. Before the unexpected occurs.