Q. My mother is very tech savvy. She is always on Facebook posting pictures, articles, and recipes. She uses online bill pay to pay most of her bills, and Microsoft Office 365 to keep a daily diary in Word and her monthly budget in Excel. She uses different passwords for everything, since she feels like that is the safest way to go. Recently, she has forgotten some of her passwords and has missed paying a couple bills as a result. I am concerned about what will happen to everything my mother keeps online, should she keep forgetting things, or if something happened to her? Also, I was wondering if you knew of a way for my mother to keep her cherished memories in one place, so she wouldn’t have to post them on Facebook for the world to see, or keep a diary in Word online, where she may not be able to access it? Thanks for your help!
A. In today’s digital world, people accrue lots of digital assets. These include digital files (i.e., emails, photos, videos, and documents), as well as digital accounts (i.e., banking, business, social media, email, retail shopping, and cloud storage). The digital assets left behind when an Internet user dies, or is no longer capable of managing his or her digital estate, is what is referred to as a person’s digital legacy.
Managing one’s digital legacy is an important issue for tech-savvy people, including your mother. However, most of these people have not planned for what will happen to their digital assets, should something happen to them. In fact, an AARP Public Policy Institute survey found that 60% of adult Internet users have not considered how they want to address their digital legacy. Even fewer said they had taken any action to prepare for the management of their digital legacy. And, surprisingly, 66% indicated they were not concerned about addressing the issue of their digital legacy, and would not look for further information on this topic.
Consequently, if people don’t plan for their digital assets, those managing the estates of those who become incapacitated or die will face challenges identifying, recovering, and accessing their photos, banking, documents stored in the cloud, etc. And, in many cases, the digital assets will be lost or lengthy legal battles over access to digital assets can ensue after a person’s incapacitation or death.
The AARP report identifies the potential barriers heirs could face and provides recommendations designed to help provide heirs legal access to digital content after incapacitation or death.
Planning for Her Digital Assets
A few simple steps could eliminate a lot of headaches when it comes to your mother planning for her digital legacy. To plan for her digital assets, she should consider the following steps:
1. She should create an inventory of important online accounts and usernames and passwords to ensure their digital content is accessible should she no longer be able to manage the content. An easy way is to store all of your digital user names and passwords in a secure password safe, such as keepass or lastpass.
2. She should also document her digital legacy wishes and coordinate with an experienced estate planning attorney, such as myself, to ensure her wishes are noted in her estate planning documents and the passwords to access them are accessible.
3. In her estate planning documents, she should specifically give control over these digital assets to an executor or trustee, who could then take over upon her death.
4. She should give her executor/trustee the password and location of the password safe or the means to locate your master password, such as by writing down her master password and putting it in an envelope in her safe deposit box.
The Living Legacy Project
You asked about a way to pass on personal legacies, without using Facebook or other resources that aren’t so private or accessible. Here at the Farr Law Firm, we recently began offering our clients a way to easily capture and pass on their personal legacies . . . and best of all, we are offering this as a gift to all of our clients, whether you’re a current client, a future client, or even a past client!
The award-winning LegacyStories.org website and companion mobile app is easy to use and can capture your mother’s memories in several ways:
1. Write Legacy Stories
Using the Legacy Stories Website and mobile App, you can compose, organize, preserve, and share your legacy stories with your own Legacy Story Blog. This is the ideal solution to preserve and share your heirloom recipes, family traditions, legacy letters, poetry, wishes for the future, wisdom statements, and life lessons and values.
2. Store Photos
Legacy Story’s Slide Shows component is a sanctuary where you can curate, preserve and share your highest-priority “legacy photos” in a format that helps future generations learn about their family history. If used for photos alone, your Legacy Portfolio (1GB) has enough storage capacity for about 5,000 vintage family photos.
3. Record Oral Histories
With the Legacy Stories App on your phone, you can easily scan an old photo, upload it for preservation, and then simply click “record” to share your memories about the photo — who’s in it, where was it taken, what were you doing at the time, what special memories the photo evokes, etc. Then, when your children or grandchildren go to the website and view that photo, they will hear your vocal narrative while looking at the photo. What a priceless gift you have now created for future generations.