Tag Archives: Digital assets

What has Facebook done to the accounts of deceased people?

Facebook recently announced that they have changed their rules related to memorializing the account of a deceased person.    In the past, Facebook determined who could see that memorialized page.  Now, the changed rule says that the memorialized page can be seen by the same people as were able to see the page of the living person.  In other words, the decisions made by that person will be honored after his or her death.

Once the account has been memorialized, there can be no modifications to the site.  No friends can be added or deleted, no photos can be modified and no content that was posted by the site owner can be removed.  However, if the privacy settings set up by the deceased allow this, friends may be able to share memories on the memorialized timeline.  And anyone can send private messages to the deceased person.  Why someone would want to do this, I don’t know.  However, it is now allowed.

If you wish to memorialize a loved one’s Facebook page, the place to get started is with the request for memorialization form.  You will be asked for a link to the deceased’s Facebook page.  You will also be asked your relationship to that person, his or her year of death and proof of that death, i.e. a link to an obituary or news article.

Once Facebook has reviewed and approved the submission, the page will be memorialized.

To read more about social media accounts of the deceased, go to www.diesmart.com.

Access to online bank accounts a problem after death

In the “old days”, a paper trail was usually very easy to follow when someone died.  You could find their bank account statements, credit card and utility bills and pension and brokerage account information all tucked away in a file cabinet or a drawer.  Then you  called the contact numbers provided to notify them about the death.

Today, it’s not so simple.

Many of us do our banking online.  All we do is log in, click on those merchants we wish to pay, insert the amount and we’re done.  If we want to transfer money or even deposit a check, no paper has to be used. Everything is done electronically.

Bill paying has also gone paperless.  I can’t remember the last time I received a bill in the mail.  Today I just receive an electronic notification that my bill has been processed for payment.

If I want to know how my portfolio is doing, I log into my brokerage account to check.  I no longer get huge stacks of paperwork every month detailing the value of each investment.  It’s the same with my pension – I just go online and review the numbers.

This is great except for one thing.  It leaves no paper trail for our loved ones to follow when we die.  If we don’t keep good records that list all of the accounts that we manage online as well as the passwords and other information needed to access them, they may never be found and some of our assets may be floating around in cyberspace forever.

For more information about how to plan for incapacity or death, go to www.diesmart.com.

Your digital after life: Does Google’s Inactive Account Manager offer more control?

There has been a lot of discussion and controversy over the last few years about what happens to your digital assets when you die.

Earlier this week, Google took a stab at solving this issue for its users when it announced the launch of its Inactive Account Manager.  This is a system that enables you to tell Google “what you want done with your digital assets when you die or can no longer use your account.”

First, using Inactive Account Manager, you can tell Google when you want your account to be treated as inactive and “time out”.  You can choose from three, six, nine or twelve months.  At the end of that period, Google will try to contact you by text or secondary email to be sure you really meant to “time out”.

Second, you can add up to ten friends or family members who should be notified that your account is inactive.  The assumption is that you’re deceased if you have let your account go inactive.  However, hopefully, if you’re just traveling around the world and don’t have access to email or you’ve decided to hibernate for a year and not go online, one of your friends or family members will let Google know.

What happens when your account becomes inactive?  You can choose to share your data with one or more of those friends or family members OR you can instruct Google to delete your account.  In that case, all associated data will be deleted including things such as your publicly shared YouTube videos, Google+ posts or blogs on Blogger.

With the new Inactive Account Manager, Google thinks it will avoid some of the conflicts that occur today when relatives of the deceased want access to their data and, in many cases, can’t get it.  With Inactive Account Manager, you will designate what happens to the data.  If you want a family member to get it, you indicate the data you want shared and with whom.

But what if your wishes conflict with those of a  family member or close friend?  According to a Google spokesperson, “we will honor the preference you’ve made in Inactive Account Manager to the extent permitted by law.”

We wondered what an attorney would think of Google’s new tool and contacted Daniel I. Spector, Esq., a lawyer with Spector Weir, LLP in Sacramento, CA.  According to Dan, “It’s a nifty first attempt at dealing with this tricky issue, but I believe the solution is ahead of the law.  The information in one’s account is an asset ” and “the law wisely requires certain steps to be taken before a person can…..take possession of a dead person’s assets.”  Someone who is appointed the executor or trustee of the estate must have their appointment recognized by the court and must follow set procedures for identifying and distributing assets.  They can’t arbitrarily be given to a friend or relative without going through the legal process.  Someday the law will catch up with what Google wants to do but it’s not there yet.

For more information about digital assets and the way companies like Facebook and Twitter handle them after someone has died, go to http://diesmart.com.  You can also find information there about probate and what it means.

HIPAA for Digital Assets?

According to Professor Jason Mazzone, University of Illinois, College of Law, “ people spend an increasing part of their lives using Facebook and other online social networking sites. However, virtually no law regulates what happens to a person’s online existence after his or her death”.

The professor’s recently published a paper, “Facebook’s Afterlife”, calls for federal laws to regulate what happens to a digital account after the death of its account holder. Mazzone states that Facebook and other online service policies don’t adequately protect the individual property and privacy interests of a deceased user’s account. He says “Social networking sites determine on their own what, if anything, to do with a deceased user’s account and the materials the user posted to the site….It’s a little like letting the bank decide what to do with your money after you die.”

He suggests that HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, is a comparable mandate. He wants a federal HIPAA-like law to protect peoples’ digital data after their death. It’s an interesting idea and one that is worth thinking about.

Digital Assets – Few Laws Legislate Access to Them after Death

If you own digital assets like a Facebook page or a Google email account, what happens to them when you die?  Assuming that your next of kin knows your passwords, he or she can easily delete them.  However, if your passwords are not available, shutting down these accounts can prove problematic.  Each email or social media company has specific rules governing the disposition of its accounts and refuses to vary from those rules.  Some allow an executor or next of kin with suitable proof of death to close an account.  Others do not, making this writer wonder if those accounts will just float around cyberspace forever.

Many people feel that there should be laws governing all digital assets in the same way that other personal property is currently legislated.  However, even though digital assets have become a big part of our lives, there are only five states that have even begun to legislate what happens to them after your death – Connecticut, Rhode Island, Indiana, Oklahoma and Idaho. 

Here’s a summary of what the current laws cover:

1.  Connecticut’s law, enacted in2005, only covers email.  That’s not too surprising considering that the explosion of social networking sites hadn’t occurred when the bill was being formulated.  Facebook didn’t start until 2004, when it was launched as a site for use only by students attending specific colleges and Twitter began in 2006.  The law states that an email service provider must give the executor or administrator of the estate access to or copies of the contents of the account if the deceased lived in Connecticut at the time of his death. 

2.  Rhode Island, in its 2007 law, also limited itself to email and is very similar to Connecticut’s.

3.  Indiana’s law focuses on electronically stored documents of the deceased.  This could include email as well as many other digital assets.  The 2007 law says that the “custodian” of the electronically stored documents will provide to the personal representative of the deceased’s estate (if the deceased was living in Indiana at the time of death) access to or copies of any stored documents or information. 

4.  Oklahoma’s 2010 law is much more comprehensive.  It says that the executor or administrator of an estate will have the power to “take control of, conduct, continue, or terminate any accounts of a deceased person on any social networking website, any microblogging or short message service website or any email service websites.”

5.  Idaho’s law, which became effective in 2011, is virtually identical to that of Oklahoma.

On January 5, 2012, Senator John Wightman of Nebraska introduced a bill in his state legislature that would be similar to that of Oklahoma and Idaho.  However, according to Wightman, the methodology of how the government would access account information and forward it to an estate representative has not yet been determined.  In addition, several people have asked whether anyone but the owner of an online account should have the right to view and control its content.   Wightman agrees that the bill may have to “be modified in some way to take account of the privacy issues as to whether or not they’ll be able to view the content.” 

Why do you think so few states have tackled this issue so far?  Do you think your state should have legislation that would control access to your digital assets after your death?

To find out more about digital assets and what currently happens to them when someone dies, pick up a copy of our book, Grave Robbers…How to Prevent Identity Theft of the Deceased,   or check out the information at http://diesmart.com/