This Blog was written by: Carol Willes
Recently I co-presented to fellow estate professionals about practical challenges that might ambush an executor or attorney for property when encountering digital and other unique assets in an estate. We uncovered some fascinating and disturbing issues that can present themselves for the unfortunate personal representatives who have to roll up their sleeves and manage these things. In today’s blog I will highlight some tips from the digital world.
Our digital footprint just keeps evolving. The approximate number of internet users in 1997 was 70 million. In 2003 it was 700 million and today it is approximately 3.5 billion. Here is just a sample of unforeseen outcomes of digital administration:
• Social Media – Facebook: Only recently has Facebook allowed subscribers to choose from two options how they want their account handled on death – permanently deleted or changed to a memorialized account managed by a pre-selected “legacy contact”. Pages set up where the account holder made no choice will be memorialized or deleted on request of verified close family members. No content can be amended in any memorialized account unless there is a named legacy contact and no one else can log in. Facebook doesn’t seem to contemplate incapacity!
Tip: Always check policies for social media accounts while alive and make appropriate arrangements for their management after death or incapacity. Inform your personal representative of the steps required.
• Digital services – Apple: e.g. iTunes, Apple ID, iCloud content, Photo Stream, Apple Store – ironically the process to close an Apple account is not automated. The personal representative must contact Apple, provide the relevant Apple ID and passwords, receive detailed, customized instructions and then Apple will close the account. As per Apple’s policy that all users agree to, the Apple ID and content rights are non-transferable and all will be deleted. This means all photos, music, games and services are gone.
Tip: Back up sentimental items in separate portable places e.g. USB keys, portable drives and ensure personal representatives can access IDs and passwords even if that contravenes the provider’s service agreement.
• Digital Commerce – eBay: This is relevant for accounts holding funds or items listed for sale with bidding underway or that require payment or shipment. The executor (eBay’s policy is silent on attorneys!) must contact eBay directly for specific instructions. The member’s account balance must be at $0.00 with no outstanding transactions, suspensions, bids or complaints, all being the executor’s responsibility to ensure. Then, after a 60 day waiting period eBay will close the account.
Tip: Be sure the executor and attorney have written permission of the account holder to manage any e-commerce accounts until closure and enough details to communicate with the service provider and resolve any outstanding matters.
Best advice: Take the time to really understand the digital assets and services being used and review and understand the providers’ service agreements before simply clicking agreement with the terms!