Choosing a legacy friend

DSC00180 Google’s Inactivity Manager was launched only two years ago, yet it seems to have triggered a fast forward button making us all the more aware of the need to protect and ensure the succession of our digital assets. Facebook recently stepped in and seem to be keen to take on the mantel of caring for our digital assets with the launch of their Facebook legacy. Contacts are able to manage accounts in a way that can turn the deceased person’s Facebook page into a kind of digital gravestone. Legacy contacts can write a post to display at the top of their friend’s memorialised profile page, change the friend’s profile picture, and even respond to new friend requests on behalf of the deceased. Being a legacy contact is different from simply logging into the account of the deceased, and there are important things legacy contacts can’t alter. They can’t edit what the deceased has already posted, or what his or her friends post on the page. In effect Facebook’s legacy contact is generating a new role for friends to accept and it should not be taken lightly. Given Facebook’s role in so many peoples lives, choosing a legacy contact looks set to be as important as selecting an executor. In fact it could be argued that the role may be more emotionally demanding and may even go on for much longer. Tying this into your estate no longer seems as far fetched as it once used to either. It does raise a number of salient questions too – first of which is why maintain a social network after death? As it turns out, research has confirmed that managing a loved-one’s social media site is a good way of coming to terms with their death. Yet this does bring forth the next question which is who to choose? Unlike selecting an executor for a Will who is generally speaking assisted by a solicitor, being a legacy contact is a whole new role which will no doubt throw up some unexpected issues as it becomes embedded into our digital culture. There will be those who may feel hurt they have not been picked, parents who may feel overlooked if a friend is selected, not to mention the thorny issue of how well everyone feels the appointed legacy contact is undertaking their role. It is early days, so no doubt these issues will get ironed out as they occur, but in the meantime we should all give careful consideration to who we would like to appoint to take on this role and then we need to consider all our other digital assets and decide how best to pass these along too! one thing is for sure, we need to manage all our digital assets as soon as possible, check out how Planned Departure can help you do this…

Digital twilight


Cancer Research have just finished trialing a world first concept which they claim could shift fundraising from collection boxes and ‘chuggers’ to an entirely new level. The charity partnered with Clear Channel to implement a campaign which enables customers who walk past Cancer Research outlets in Brighton, Kensington, Guildford or Marylebone to tap their card on the contactless payment point on the window to donate a fixed fee of £2.

It seems like every day brings a new digital advantage into our lives, enabling us to interact, consume and communicate in easier, more streamlined ways. For each new digital asset however, comes the increasingly pressing need to ensure we are managing our digital assets more effectively.

As Gary Rycroft, a member of the Law Society Wills and Equity Committee, recently outlined during a BBC Radio 5 Live interview, leaving a digital legacy now needs to be taken very seriously. Rycroft recommended leaving a Will that takes into account a person’s  wishes regarding their personal online accounts. As he highlighted, this is the only way to ensure that loved ones know where and what the accounts are, and that they know what to do with them.

Rycroft concluded the interview explaining that “it’s our job as solicitors to tell our clients that they need to think about these things,” as a consequence there is an ongoing project at the Law Society to give advice to the profession on how best to do this.

As the likes of Cancer Research look for new ways to attract funding by making the payment process easy and rapid, children’s charity bibic are actively looking at new ways of attracting legacies and have shifted their focus to digital legacies which they believe will help boost funding.

Protecting, storing, passing on and safeguarding our digital legacies are giving rise to new needs, the likes of which Planned Departure are anticipating and managing for hundreds of clients.

Launch: Digital legacy of your emails – who should get what?

Now, pause for a moment and think – how much time do you spend on searching for or organising these emails? Also, what would happen if your email account is locked for any reason and you need to access to a critical email? Or would you want your family to access your entire inbox or just specific emails when you are not around?

Emails have become our primary medium of communication. From utility bills to bank statements and share certificates – everything is delivered via email. It is estimated that on and average, there are over 8000 emails in our inboxes. That’s a lot of emails.

Now, pause for a moment and think – how much time do you spend on searching for or organising these emails? Also, what would happen if your email account is locked for any reason and you need to access to a critical email? Or would you want your family to access your entire inbox or just specific emails when you are not around?

Our new asset type solves interesting problems like these. With our new ‘Inbox’ asset type, You can

  1. Save time because you will no longer need to search for emails in your inbox. Or upload important information manually in Planned Departure.
  2. Ensure that you have access to your critical emails even if you do not have access to your inbox for any reason
  3. Distribute specific emails to specific beneficiaries instead of giving access to the entire inbox.

It takes less than 10 secs to get started with this new feature – just forward your important emails to – that’s it ! Done!

Our automated process will add emails you forward to your account and will notify you within 10 minutes! As easy as that. You don’t even have to login to Planned Departure to add information in your account!

Please have a look at our landing page for this feature

Landing page for emails

And start forwarding your emails to see this feature in action.

The digitisation effect

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The process of digitisation continues to expand, and as a consequence the link between physical geographic location and the ability to adequately set rules that apply to individuals and property is being eradicated. Facebook’s recent move towards storing passwords and usernames  is yet more proof that virtually every aspect of life (both business and personal) is becoming captured and stored in some digital form. Which is why the protection of our digital assets is rapidly becoming a major issue. In the UK alone, PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates that the value of digital assets is in the region of £25 billion. And that figure is set to grow exponentially.

Digital assets are defined as any property that can be found in a digital format. These include, amongst others: registered domain names (whether active or not), websites, email accounts, online bank accounts, passwords, social media accounts, databases, digital contracts and receipts, Frequent Flyer miles, financial spreadsheets, tax statements, fiat currencies such as Linden dollars and Bitcoins. They can also include electronic representations of tangible personal property.

In the vast majority of cases, people pay scant regard to the protection of these assets. In comparison with physical property they are a challenge because they are more dynamic and, in many instances, transitory.

Consider for a moment how many physical things we create in a lifetime in comparison with how many emails we write, the number of digital photos we download from our smart phones and the volumes of data we generate both online and offline. And of the latter, how many of these are converted into hard copies? Very little if any. They remain firmly entrenched in cyberspace.

In business, the issue of digital asset protection tends to relate primarily to customer data security. Cyberdefense strategies and tactics have helped address common threats from a cyberattack but they don’t address the issue of digital legacy.

Customer data security is just one aspect of digital asset protection. Whilst we continue to manufacture, sell and control tangible goods, the digital era has created new symbolic forms of economic exchange that have no physical presence. Even the representation of money is no longer required. It is now possible to acquire and exchange digital things without a physical presence of any kind.

It is here that the issue of digital asset protection can become complex. We use passwords and other security tools to protect our most valuable and sensitive property. In many cases, terms and conditions relating to usernames and passwords make it binding on the individual not to share these with anyone else.

Interestingly, in a recent study by private banking organisation US Trust, it was reported that of the wealthiest respondents, forty-six percent regularly change their passwords to protect anything stored electronically.

But what happens to that information when the owner of those usernames and passwords becomes permanently incapacitated or dies? What might the loss to a business be if workers are unable to access vital information required to ensure the ongoing operation of the firm?

Taking adequate measures to protect the company’s digital assets and maintaining control over these assets is actually protecting the business itself.

A good case study comes from solicitors Watson Mann. A close friend of senior partner Isobel Mann lost her husband (also a solicitor) suddenly,  leaving in his wake a digital trail that put his work colleagues and his family in considerable difficulty. Even though he had drawn up a Will, he had neglected the fact that most of his affairs were locked in a digital world only he had access to. He had taken adequate protection of his physical assets but not his digital property.

As Ms Mann explained, they were faced with a nightmare situation. With so many hidden trails, what were they to look for and where were they to start?

Ms Mann had to unravel and pick through her friend’s deceased husband’s digital assets to define those elements that were not only crucial to his business but also those that had sentimental and financial value to his family.

As Ms Mann noted, bank statements, for example, might come in the post: account balance, money received, bills paid – everything was traceable. In this digital era however, there may be no physical statements. Data are retained on a remote server accessible only by username and password.

When banks become aware that an account holder has died, they may freeze access to all online accounts as a precautionary measure to avoid fraud. This can cause serious issues for the deceased’s business by severely hampering the financial operations of the organisation.

According to Ms Mann, her friend was unable to access her husband’s online account because it had been set up by him using his registered username and password. Both were unknown to her.

Technology is advancing at a faster rate than the formulation of new laws that address the issue of digital assets. Even though they may be offered some protection in law, digital assets may not necessarily comply with the same legal characteristics as physical assets.

With the advent of the Internet new types of property have been created, some with similar characteristics to trademark rights but without inherent ties to the trademark law of any individual country. With cyberspace having no physical boundaries, defining rights in this new, valuable property presents a number of questions, including those relating to transferability, conditions for ownership, duration of ownership rights and forfeiture in the event of abandonment.

As Isobel Mann noted, if the owners of digital assets want them adequately protected and to generate maximum financial return for beneficiaries and future generations, it is essential that the digital assets that form part of the creator’s estate are taken into account during the estate planning process.

Even though the owners may have a written Will regarding their physical assets, Wills can be an awkward vehicle for digital assets. There are a number of reasons for this: the formality attendant to the execution of non-holographic wills, the often rapidly changing nature and ownership of digital assets, these assets may become outdated quickly as the asset disappears or takes a new form and it remains unclear whether service providers will respect the terms of Wills to transfer ownership of digital property.

Digital estate planners (or digital asset management services) allow individuals to inventory all of their digital assets, including usernames, passwords and postmortem instructions. A digital executor or verifier is named by the asset owner and this person is subsequently provided access to the digital property upon satisfactory provision of proof of death or permanent incapacity. The digital executor can then download, delete or provide to beneficiaries such assets in accordance with the instructions of the decedent.

Working in collaboration with law firms, digital asset management companies can provide a viable and cost-effective service for law firm clients.

First Google, and now Facebook is following our lead – Facebook rolls out feature for users when they die


In 2013, Google launched it’s Inactivity Account Manager and at Planned Departure we crossed our fingers in the hope that other companies would start following suit. Which is why we are delighted to see that Facebook has followed the steps of Google and now offer this control to the user.

These steps which both Google and Facebook have taken are heading in the right direction, however, they are not sufficient. Our digital lives go way beyond the remit of Google and Facebook, who are obviously important but who in effect are only a minor part of our digital presence. Think about other online services we use – from communication to financial transactions, we now use numerous services which have become intrinsically tied to our day to day lives.

We should definitely have a lot more granular level control on what and how our accounts should be operated after we pass away. Like any other physical asset, as a creator of these digital assets, we should have the ability to specify who should get access to these accounts and what they should do with them.

People have the right to distribute whatever they own from their physical world, why can’t they do it from the digital world? This question and the problem we faced led us to the development of Planned Departure in the first place.

It is nice to see that mainstream organisations have now followed our lead and are solving this problem for their platforms. However, for an individual, we suggest they should think about their entire digital presence – not just Facebook and Google.

It is important to think about all the digital assets we possess, assign right beneficiaries for them and leave clear instructions for each and everything. It is important to have a planned departure in this digital age – otherwise, our data would stay locked or lost in this cyber-world forever!

The value of digital passwords


An article which appeared in the Daily Mail a couple of days ago emphasised the importance of including digital passwords in a Will, something which Richard Webb’s family wish he had done prior to his death in 2007.

At the time Mr Webb was actively in charge of the family finances. As he had been disabled by multiple sclerosis for quite some time prior to his death, he had maintained his numerous interests via the internet. In fact he had managed very effectively to continue investing in stocks and shares, something which he had been interested in for years.

On December, 10th Mr Webb collapsed and was taken to hospital. During the next four days he was in a coma, and his family decided to sell his shares before he died and the estate entered probate. However they were unable to do so as all his accounts were online and they had no way of accessing them. As his son recalls, they had hit a stone wall and the situation was very frustrating.

It took the family two months to finally unpick his digital legacy, two months which, as it turned out, cost the family just over £80,000 as the share prices plummeted. Whilst Richard Webb’s Will had been updated, no one had thought to ensure that all his digital legacies had a succession plan in place.

Komal Joshi, encountered a similar issue when her father died in 2010. As Joshi recounts, it was like looking for a needle in a hay stack, no one really knew what they were looking for let alone where to find it. Unlike Richard Webb’s family, her father hadn’t even left a Will, and it was this experience which spurred her to create a digital vault to help people manage their scattered digital assets.

As it turns out, Richard Webb’s story is by no means unique. There are currently £25 billion worth of unclaimed assets in the UK and some £2 billion worth of unclaimed insurance policies. The digital era we live in has simplified so much of our day to day transactions and communications however there is also a tendency to take many of these digital assets for granted, to assume they will always be there and we will always be able to access them. We have not yet got the mindset to consider these assets as part of a valuable legacy.

Even if we discount the financial value of many of these assets, the emotional value of digital photos, collections of films and books, through to social media platforms and even emails is enormous. Carefully kept, ribbon-bound letters trigger emotional pangs that we still struggle to associate with say a Facebook account, and yet effectively they are imbued with the same emotional quality and value.

As our digital footprints increases we owe it to the next generations to manage it properly. It is fair to say that whilst the Baby Boomer generation has a relatively small digital footprint we still have amassed a good amount of digital ‘baggage’ which should be stored and passed on. As the new generation comes into the world they will, in many instances, already have a digital presence, sometimes even before they are born (say if parents post ultrasound photos). It is definitely time we took our digital assets much more seriously if we want them to outlast us. For families such as the Webb’s too we need to ensure that loved ones are financially protected and don’t have to go to great lengths to retrieve information particularly at such a difficult time.