Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Dealing with Digital Assets

     In previous posts, we addressed handling tangible personal property after the death of the owner. However, in a world where a person's online presence increases on a daily basis, it is just as important to plan for the distribution of digital assets and securing a person's online presence after death. An online presence includes access to bank accounts, paying bills, viewing photos uploaded to Facebook, and any other online service.
     Certain services, such as Facebook and more recently Google, have begun to take steps to address what happens to their user’s information following that user’s death, and how a personal representative can gain access to such information. In the coming months and years, other services are very likely to follow suit, but this leaves a patchwork of different private organizations dictating the rules for handling an individual's personal information.
     One method to address this piecemeal collection of rules is to include specific language in a Will and Living Trust giving the designated representative under those documents the authority to gain access to online accounts. This is an untested and unknown area of law, but there is substantial legal basis for service providers to work with the personal representative to deal with digital assets.
     A second, and perhaps more practical approach, is to keep a careful record of login information and passwords in a location known to the designated representative, so that in the event of the owner's death, accounts and information are accessible. One commonly used method for creating this repository of passwords is the use of a cloud storage service, such as Google Drive, Dropbox, or  Amazon Cloud Drive, to store a document containing all the logins and passwords. The person then leaves the password to access that cloud storage service in a location with their estate planning documents or known to the designated representatives. While this method has a small chance of creating a security problem if the cloud storage service suffers a security breach, it is the most efficient way to keep track of the ever-growing number of logins and passwords used on a regular basis.
     One way to minimize security concerns is to ensure that the passwords you use, for sites you access regularly and for cloud storage services are strong. Many sites online can provide you with advice on creating strong passwords. My personal favorite is xkcd.com, which demonstrates how to create strong passwords using this comic at its website. Microsoft also provides a tool for checking password strength.
     Our online presence is unlikely to decrease in the coming years, and therefore it is important that we spend as much time securing our digital assets as we spend securing our tangible ones.

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