Estate Planning For Your Computer
by Kimberly A. Hughes, Kimmunitee
The Whys and Wherefores
Connecting people with one another is gratifying work, especially when the individuals involved are some of the best in their field. Even better when their raison d’être is serving the community at large. Therefore, when I recently listened to an archived radio segment on digital assets, I immediately thought of two people—William Hand and Eido Walny—and how their collective expertise could help you.
As one of Bill’s clients, it’s a given that at least one computer (probably more) is an important part of your life. No doubt, as well, you have on-line digital accounts (one estimate has the average person linked to 20-25 such accounts) and passwords for each. What happens to all that information upon your death—digital data such as your on-line bank and investment accounts, software, apps, cloud storage, Facebook wall, LinkedIn connections, e-mails, tweets, songs, videos and photos?
Eido M. Walny, Attorney At Law
Need help answering the question up above? Kimmunitee thought so, since PC Assistants is one of our clients. Therefore, we arranged to sit down and have a nice talk (really, it was a wonderful conversation) with Eido Walny of the Walny Legal Group.
In Bill’s mind, there’s none better than Eido to get you thinking about digital asset protection. Eido’s law practice specializes in, among several other areas, estate planning. He’s an award-winning attorney and he and Bill have had professional experience together.
Now that you know how Bill and Eido put this together for you, let’s get to the concepts Eido highlighted in our conversation:
• What’s Mine is Mine and What’s Yours Is Mine
With computer software and the Internet, we’ve entered the world of esoteric assets and non- traditional property. Digital information is reclassifying terms such as “mine” and “property.” Often times when opening an on-line account or downloading software, you don’t own the actual content. Rather, you’re receiving the right to access that content (called a limited license).
That license is granted to you—and generally you and no one else—when you click “I agree” to the service provider’s contract. It’s that lengthy legalese in tiny text that pops up on our screens whenever we open a new on-line account.
Example: Over the years, an individual spends $10,000 building an extensive iTunes collection. He doesn’t own the songs like a traditional record, cassette or CD, but he (and he alone) has the right to listen to those songs. When he dies, what happens to that collection? He never “owned” it to begin with; therefore, “it” (which is really just access to the songs) can’t be sold or transferred.
• Clash of the Titans
In the growing debate between the dissemination of information (end users freely sharing their access) and wanting to keep it private (companies determined to protect their assets and safeguard their customers), no-one has yet come up with an easy solution to this complicated issue. Sans a King Solomon, “no-one” in this case means federal and state legislation. Currently there are few states with appropriate legislation (Wisconsin is not one of them), so that leaves the federal government.
• Federal Anti-Piracy Laws—A Good Idea to Know They Exist
Ever share passwords with family, friends and colleagues? What about business partners or the executor of your will? Then you (along with millions of others) may be violating the terms of your on-line agreement (the contract mentioned earlier), and some federal anti-piracy laws (the only thing we’ve got right now pertaining to digital data).
• Back to the Future
It has been said that two thousand years ago, civilization’s knowledge base was doubling about every one thousand years. Today we’re doubling that base every 2 weeks. With the law generally 2-1/2 steps behind society, imagine the catching up it has to do with digital information. Until test cases are heard and more and different laws are passed, what’s a person to do?
• You’ve Taken the First Step
Feel good about that. Just reading articles such as this and mulling over the concepts is to become aware. “Knowing,” says Eido, “is one-half the battle.”
• What Next? It Doesn’t Include Obsessing.
No need to obsess about protecting your digital data. No need to make hard copy back-ups of everything. Instead, when you next have a bit of free time, take stock of your accounts and, along with their passwords, list them somewhere safe (there are apps for this, by the way).
• The Catch-22 That Will Be Straightened Out Someday
Notwithstanding the potential violation of anti-piracy laws, it would be a good idea to give someone that list. (The caveat in the previous sentence is a good indicator of the conundrum we’re facing.) Monitor your data and, as accounts are added and deleted and as passwords are changed and new ones are acquired, revise your list and give the update to the appropriate person(s).
• When They Die, We Delete
Nope, not that simple. Considering social media alone, every platform has its own terms dealing with the death of an account holder. Rarely are those terms as simple as deletion upon 6 months of inactivity. You might find this infographic helpful: What Happens To Your Social Media Profiles When You Die.
Wikipedia maintains a page entitled “Death and the Internet” where they list the terms of service that certain providers follow when it comes to sharing information and dormant accounts. It’s worth noting which of these providers you may use and then take stock of the applicable policy. One thing that’s immediately apparent is that there is no such thing as an industry standard.
• Power to Manage Digital Media
Yes, there is such a thing. In fact, the Walny Legal Group now includes the Power to Manage Digital Media in their clients’ trusts and durable powers of attorney. While these will not solve every problem, it is certainly a step in the right direction.
• “Do The Best You Can”
That’s Eido’s answer to people’s general query about their digital data. “Sometimes they’re frustrated with that answer,” he added. In this rapidly-evolving Information Age, it’s understandable that some people might feel that way. Yet, “do your best” is Eido’s reassurance that—instead of fretting ceaselessly about digital data—time could be better spent overseeing on-line accounts. Use the steps below to do just that:
- prepare and maintain a list of your accounts and passwords,
- continue to let people know how to get that information (while keeping the anti-piracy laws in the back of your mind),
- consider how you’d eventually like your digital life handled, and
- when creating or revising your will and estate documents, add the digital data into your asset category.
Attorney Eido Walny can be reached at 414-751-7531 and
He’s been named a “Five Star: Best in Client Satisfaction Wealth Manager” each year since 2009 by Milwaukee Magazine.
To read more about digital assets, here are some suggested links :