Email, Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, Word, Excel, and countless other technology-related words are relatively new terms that are quickly becoming commonplace as communication, data storage, and entertainment become digitalized. In fact, almost every part of our world is going digital (and supposedly making our lives better). Information previously stored in boxes, albums, and almost any kind and size of storage container is on CDs, hard drives, and clouds.
In Your Digital Afterlife: When Facebook, Flickr, and Twitter Are Your Estate, What’s Your Legacy? came along.
The book, written by Evan Carroll and John Romano, addresses the very real issues that most of us may have briefly considered, but not really grasped. The authors are the founders of TheDigitalBeyond.com, a website that offers resources and help to save all things digital that we each create during our lives.
A part of my work as a trust officer, I represent my employer when the bank is appointed executor of an estate. The decedent has named the bank in his/her Last Will and Testament, and it is our job to work through the assets and liabilities as the Will dictates. Thus far, there has been no consideration or direction on dealing with digital assets. This book is extremely helpful in pointing out the need to include digital items in our estate planning, both professionally for our clients and personally.
You may be thinking, “So, who will care about my iTunes playlist?” It’s not that simple.
We store a great deal of our lives, today, “out there,” in the cloud, on networks, on hard drives, and more. We store our correspondence digitally, using methods such as email, Twitter, and Facebook. Our photos are stored electronically, often with providers such as Facebook, YouTube, and Flickr. And our thoughts and data are expressed and stored through blogs, word processor programs, spread sheets, and web browsers increase, the need to preserve this information becomes more important.
The book provides a very poignant illustration of this need.
Right through the Vietnam War, letters from soldiers were on paper. Family members kept these physical documents as a memento, record, and history.
But in today’s world, soldiers in harm’s way correspond by email and place their thoughts on computers.
The difficulty in obtaining email accounts and other digital information at the death of a soldier can be extremely difficult, if not legally impossible. As we sign up for various email and other internet services, we have to check a box that we agree to the terms and conditions of the provider. Those terms and conditions may deny access after the death of the one using the service. There is also the matter of not knowing passwords to gain access to the service if it still is available.
The book covers these issues and much more. A method to itemize our digital assets is carried through the chapters. An extensive list of sources of digital information that needs to be considered is also shown.
The term Digital Executor is introduced and explained. While not a legal position in terms of probate, the Digital Executor is empowered to handle the deceased’s digital assets. They are provided with all the necessary passwords, directions, and sources of information so they can pass digital files and accounts to the appropriate people at a death.
Death is rarely a leading topic of discussion in most social or family situations.
However, consider how valuable it would be have access to and keep records, photos, thoughts, music, video, and any other digital record of a loved one after the individual has died. This book provides guidance we should consider to make sure this information is accessible after a death.
The reader is encouraged to begin the process of creating an inventory of digital assets, possibly copying those items most treasured to mediums that are easy to access after death and to specify who is to receive what digital item.
Converting old mediums into digital is also emphasized. Old photos, movies, cassettes, VHS tapes, and slides are urged to be transformed to digital.
Saving digital assets is ongoing as more and more information is created.
This process is very much like the inventory and division of tangible assets that we each should do. Of course, just like the tangible assets, this planning is usually delayed or not kept current once established. Shame on us for not maintaining an inventory once we understand the benefit this would be to our loved ones.
The book provides a good summary of estate planning from a digital viewpoint. Examples of the vast area of personal digital assets that may be unaccounted for in an estate plan are listed. Specific actions and resources to consider in making a digital inventory to pass on to friends and family are also outlined. As an added bonus, the authors used current processes of estate planning and settlement to contrast what is needed in the digital world.
While this contrast was helpful in illustrating the need for digital planning, it is also a good reminder of the steps that should be considered in every estate plan.
Your Digital Afterlife is 177 pages followed by an extensive appendix, glossary, and index.
The appendix alone is worth the price of the book, as it contains helpful websites and ideas in gaining understanding and control of one’s digital assets. The book has simple illustrations that help the reader understand the points being made. Planning a legacy in digital assets should be considered and this book is an excellent resource to help.
As digital assets continue to grow in the form of communication, information storage, and daily processes, having it all vanish at death could be a great loss to family and friends.
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