Friday, January 30, 2015

Dealing With Your Digital Death

Over 400 people die every hour.
That’s 10,273 who die every day.
Over 312,500 die every month.
We all know that planning for our eventual demise is the right thing to do. Not only does it help guide our loved ones in handling our affairs according to our wishes, it also gives us the opportunity to have a final say in the matter.

But now, we have to worry about something our ancestors never did – Our digital death! Almost all of us are part of a social media community (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+) where we share our triumphs, our tragedies, and tidbits about our daily lives. This is a part of our digital property.

Our digital assets also include photographs, videos, blogs, web sites, gaming sites, music accounts, and written material. Plus, financial accounts, stocks and bonds, medical reports, copyrights, domain names, trademarks, even trade secrets.

Our digital footprint includes not only items of financial value (In 2011, U.S. consumers valued their digital assets at around $55,000 per person.) but also sentimental value like genealogy research, special messages, videos and private emails that mean something important only to us and our families. 

So, what happens to all of this information when we die? Where does it go and who is in charge of getting it there?

WebpageFX has put together a great graphic to show what can happen to your social media assets:

On social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and Pinterest, YOU are the owner of your digital data. This means that your privacy is protected after your death unless you authorize access to someone before you die.

Each social site has requirements that must be met before a page is taken down. For Facebook, you must prove you are an immediate family member. Twitter requires a death certificate, as does Google and Pinterest. LinkedIn requires general information such as the company the deceased worked for, your link to the deceased’s profile, and their email address.

But the deactivation of an account or page can take time. On Facebook and LinkedIn, a profile is not removed until the death is reported. Twitter takes up to 6 months to deactivate an account and Google takes up to 9 months to deactivate a profile. With Twitter and Google, your user name cannot be used again. With Facebook and LinkedIn, it can.

This becomes an even murkier area where account holders, service providers, courts, state legislatures, and state and federal governments become involved because of the lack of clear, defined steps on how to handle personal digital property.  Questions surface every day concerning what constitutes the violation of civil liabilities when executing the disposal of such digital property. (Not to mention what is considered to be an act of criminal liability.)

Digital Death offers three steps to help you manage your digital assets now, and make the process easier on your loved ones after your death.

1) Identify your digital property. Make a list of what you have out in cyber space and note what you would like done with these assets: maybe you want your genealogy files given to your state repository. Keep a list of your passwords, profiles, user names and account numbers to assist your loved ones in sorting through your digital footprint and tying up loose ends.  You can make sorting through your digital assets easier, and let your wishes be known specifically by writing down what you want done with your accounts, your photos, written materials and so forth. Then date the list and sign it, preferably in front of a witness before storing it in a safety box and passing a copy on to your attorney. Remember to update your inventory list once a year so that the information is correct, and tell a trusted relative or friend where the list is kept.

2) Authorize access to your accounts in writing. Who do you trust to make sure your wishes are carried out. Discuss this authorization with your attorney so that a court can make sure it's carried out to your specifications if there is a problem.

3) Communicate your wishes to your family and friends. Mention what you want to have happen with your digital assets in your will, and notify your family in writing as to what you want done.

The flip side of this coin is that family members and online sites could act too quickly and your digital assets might be deleted at a painful and emotional time without regard to, or even an understanding of what you had documented as your wishes concerning how they were to be handled.

This is not a topic that will be solved quickly or quietly. Look for more discussions and debates in the near future regarding what could happen to your digital life - now and after your death.
~ Joy

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