Taylor Schulte | These Financial Times
“Sixty-three percent of people don’t know what will happen to their digital data after they die.” – Rocket Lawyer, online legal service.
What is digital data? Digital data is all the “stuff” we collect, store, and share online with others. This includes emails, documents, images, social networking accounts, online shopping accounts, and more.
Although much of it might make living easier, more productive, or simply more fun, it makes estate planning more complex.
Traditionally, upon death or incapacitation, a fiduciary would look through mail, bank statements and paper records to gather the needed information. Now much of this information is collected and stored on the internet, which makes data finding challenging, and at times, impossible. The following are three significant obstacles to accessing information along with some suggested planning strategies:
1) Passwords and Encryption
Microsoft generally recommends using strong passwords that are at least fourteen characters long, using a mix of uppercase letters, lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols. This is great for financial security but challenging for a fiduciary attempting to access critical information.
One way to solve the problem is to utilize a software tool, such as LastPass, 1Password, KeePass, RoboForm, or Keeper. These services allow you to securely save all your passwords and keep them safe using one master password.
2) Terms of Service and Company Policies
Few people actually read the Terms of Service when they sign up for an online account, and companies scrupulously enforce them. For example, Google does not generally grant access to Gmail accounts to an account holder’s heirs or representatives.
Fortunately, Google has recognized the importance of your digital data and recently launched “Google’s Inactive Account Manager.” It functions much like a digital will, letting users choose settings for what they want to happen to data in their Google accounts if they die or become inactive for a specified period of time.
3) Criminal Law/Stored Communications Act
Both the ECPA and the CFAA protect against unlawful interception of messages that are stored (such as email messages). Under these laws, unauthorized access to computer messages is a federal crime. In addition, the Stored Communications Act creates privacy rights to protect the contents of certain electronic communications and files from disclosure by certain service providers. For fiduciaries, these are are simply more roadblocks to accessing information.
What’s the solution? Plan ahead. Prepare a list of your digital data and how to access it. This list can be indexed and stored on a flash drive, the Cloud, a safe deposit box, home safe, and/or with a data management company such as AssetLock.
Planning for digital assets is a developing area of the law. It is critical you plan for what should happen to your digital property with the understanding that these plans may need to be updated often. For a copy of our Family Information Planner that will help get you started, please contact me at my office and I’ll be happy to help.
Taylor Schulte is a Financial Advisor for Beverly Hills Wealth Management in Downtown San Diego. Taylor specializes in providing independent, objective, financial advice to individuals, families, and businesses. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 619-881-0388.