Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

Editor: Gerry W. Beyer
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

A Member of the Law Professor Blogs Network

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

New Estate Planning Tool: Estate Assist

Digital lock

A new online estate planning tool aims to help users store all of thier online passwords, social media accounts, digital health records, banking information, and other paperwork. 

Estate Assist works as an online safe deposit box that stores your online and offline information in one place.  In addition to helping users choose which accounts to add, Estate Assist uses an API from Intuit to automatically pull linked accounts and prompt users to change updated information in Estate Assist.  Once all of your assets have been uploaded, users can choose to share the accounts with designated trustees such as friends, family, or their lawyer.   

October 22, 2014 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Technology, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, October 10, 2014

Controversy for Digital Asset Legislation

Computer 2

The advent of technology and the digital age has introduced the world to cloud storage, e-mail accounts, and photo streams.  Today, almost everyone has assets that are stored as data and can be accessed online.  These “digital assets” may include text messages, e-mails, video images, source codes, software, online bank accounts, blogs, and much more.  The steady upshot of an individual’s online presence has given rise to a new legal issue—authority over administering digital assets and accounts of an account holder upon death or disability. 

As I have previously discussed, the Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (UFADAA) is legislation drafted by the Uniform Law Commission to ensure account holders can retain control of their digital property and plan for its ultimate disposition after their death.  In August, Delaware became the first state to enact a law modeled after the UFADAA and will become effective January 1, 2015. 

While some view the UFADAA and the Delaware Act as a great solution to the estate administration issues raised by digital property, industry groups have criticized this legislation as encroaching on the privacy rights of the deceased.  In a recent blog post, Yahoo’s Senior Legal Director for Public Policy criticized the UFADAA for the “faulty presumption that the decedent would have wanted the trustee to have access to his or her communications” and for “setting the privacy default at zero.”  Other companies also publicly oppose the UFADAA and Delaware Act.  Facebook has stated it agrees with the concerns raised by Yahoo and Google, and co-signed an industry letter to Delaware’s governor, urging he veto the proposed law. 

See Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets and Accounts - Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act “UFADAA”, The National Law Review, Oct. 3, 2014. 

Special thanks to Jim Hillhouse (Professional Legal Marketing (PLM, Inc.)) for bringing this article to my attention.

October 10, 2014 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Technology, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Estate Planning for the Digital Age

Technology

According to a 2012 Rocket Lawyer survey, most Americans forego estate planning altogether.  Yet who informs Facebook or other social media outlets and online services know you have passed away? 

As of now, only one state, Delaware, has a law allowing family members access to online profiles after someone dies.  The law still faces problems with companies like Yahoo and Twitter that have different policies for handling online information after someone’s passing.  In addition to the high price of hiring a lawyer to deal with these issues, it becomes clear why many people may not bother with planning.

Woody Levin contemplated these issues, and he came up with the idea to create a digital safe deposit box for all assets—online and off.  His company, Estate Assist, aims to help you store all of your online passwords, social media accounts, digital health records, bank and other paperwork.  The site works by informing the loved ones you choose that the account exists.  It will release information about all your accounts and digital paperwork as soon as this person can verify you have passed. 

See Sarah Buhr, Estate Assist Wants to Provide Estate Planning for the Social Media Age, MSN, Oct. 1, 2014.

October 2, 2014 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Article on Testamentary Succession, New Technologies and Recodification

Mariusz.zalucki

Mariusz Zalucki (Andrzej Frycz Modrzewski Krakow University College) recently published an article entitled, Testamentary Succession, New Technologies and Recodification: On the Research that Needs to Be Conducted, Societas Et Iurisprudentia 2014, Vol. II No. 2.  Provided below is the abstract from SSRN:

In view of the fact that one of the main tasks of modern inheritance law is to connect the available legal structures with the shape of property relations existing in the society and to favour solutions which enable to make the most of the testator’s estate after his or her death, the author concludes that a research needs to be conducted to examine what consequences in this field of law follow, inter alia, from the wide availability of audio and video digital recorders, and what are legal consequences of registering the last will of the testator using such equipment, e.g. if in such context, can we call a videotestament a newly developing form of estate disposition. In this scope projects should search for connections between the above-indicated technical equipment and the possibilities of fulfilling the last will of the testator, to analyze if they may be useful for applying the principle of testamentary freedom present in inheritance law and to explain if the application of such equipment by the testator will facilitate or hinder the execution of testator’s will mortis causa.

September 25, 2014 in Articles, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Yahoo Criticizes Digital Asset Legislation

Yahoo

Many questions arise when it comes to addressing what should come of our personal digital communications after we die?  Should they be treated like physical letters for the purposes of a will?

Yahoo does not think so.  The company is now criticizing new legislation that gives executors charged with carrying out the instructions in a person’s will broad access to their online accounts.  Delaware recently passed legislation titled the “Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets and Digital Accounts Act.”  The measure removes some of the red tape that an estate attorney or other fiduciary would otherwise have to go through to gain broad access to the deceased’s online accounts. 

In a recent blog post, Yahoo stated that the expanded access violates the initial agreement users entered into when they started using services.  “When an individual signs up for a Yahoo account, they agree to our terms of service, which outlines that neither their account nor the contents of their private communications are transferrable at the time of death.” 

Yahoo’s terms of service say it may delete an account and all of the data if it is shown a copy of the person’s death certificate.  The company argues that the new legislation does not offer the correct means to providing a family or fiduciary the information they need when dealing with the loss of a relative.   

See Zach Miners, Yahoo Slams New ‘Digital Will’ Law, Says Users Have Privacy When They Die, PC World, Sept. 15, 2014.

Special thanks to Jim Hillhouse (Professional Legal Marketing (PLM, Inc.)) for bringing this article to my attention.

September 23, 2014 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, New Legislation, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Estate Planning with Smartphones

Smartphone

With the release of the new iPhone 6, it is becoming more apparent that smartphones are relied upon to make lives a lot easier.  From checking the weather to buying stock, there is almost nothing these phones cannot do.  In Australia, an individual came up with another innovative use for his smartphone when he used it to prepare his Last Will and Testament shortly before taking his life.

Karter Yu typed his Will on the notes application installed on his iPhone, titling the document his “Last Will and Testament.”  When challenged, the Supreme Court of Queensland, Australia declared the electronic document to be the Will of Mr. Yu.  Thus, the document was admitted to probate.  The court specifically noted that the document contained the decedent’s signature and was automatically time and date stamped by the phone. 

While this is a unique example as to how technology is molding estate planning, it is not recommended that individuals use the same “do-it-yourself” digital approach.  Because technology is advancing rapidly, electronic communications can be easily lost or outdated.  Furthermore, these communications may fail to meet the traditional requirements of testamentary formalities.

See Are iWills the Way of the Future? The National Law Review, Sept. 19, 2014.

Special thanks to Jim Hillhouse (Professional Legal Marketing (PLM, Inc.)) for bringing this article to my attention.

September 21, 2014 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, New Cases, Technology, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, September 19, 2014

Cemetery Utilizes Technology to Create Interactive Experience

CemeteryCemeteries can be more than simply a place to bury our dead and mourn, but also a place of educational value and cultural growth. The Arnos Vale Cemetery in Bristol filled the role of a community park and offered activities such as yoga lessons and walking paths. Then they added technology and created an interactive way for visitors to honor the dead, which resulted in Future Cemetery.  Future Cemetery utilizes multimedia to create an interactive environment, including projection, audio, guided tours through phone applications, and live reenactments. View a video of Future Cemetery’s use of technology here.

See Plus Aziz, How Will we Mourn the Dead in the Future?, PSFK, Sept. 16, 2014.

Special thanks to Brian Cohan (Attorney at Law, Law Offices of Brian J. Cohan, P.C.) for bringing this article to my attention.

September 19, 2014 in Death Event Planning, Estate Planning - Generally, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Article on Defining Parentage for Lenders of Genetic Material

Lynda Wray BlackLynda Wray Black (University of Memphis - Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law) recently published an article entitled, The Birth of a Parent: Defining Parentage for Lenders of Genetic Material, Nebraska Law Review, Vol. 92, 2014. Provided below is the abstract from SSRN:

With the advances in assisted reproductive technology, the scholarly quest for an all-inclusive legal definition of parentage has proliferated. All too often this quest becomes muddled in Constitutional tangles, in shifting mores, in quagmires of evolving and inconsistent legal parameters on what constitutes a “family”, and in the perceived need to reconcile conflicting state laws governing marriage, adoption and surrogacy contracts. This article suggests a return to the basics. Parents are born with the birth of a child. Notwithstanding the scientific breakthroughs in reproductive technology and the more inclusive modern understanding of the family unit, every child begins with two (and only two) suppliers of genetic material and one (and only one) gestational carrier. Thus, the only logically clear starting point for a legal definition of parentage begins with these three claim-holders to parentage. Once the examination of the concept of parentage is disentangled from the complications of related, but logically independent, legal questions, it becomes clear that unless and until the rights and obligations of parentage are either (voluntarily) contractually waived or (involuntarily) judicially or statutorily terminated, the law must recognize as parent any individual (regardless of his or her gender, sexual orientation or marital status) who is biologically related to a child.

September 14, 2014 in Articles, Estate Planning - Generally, Science, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Estate Planning for Digital Assets

Computer 2

The Anderson family recently lost their nineteen-year-old son and is now seeking access to his text messages, e-mails, and Facebook account to find out more about the moments leading up to his tragic death.  The family is hoping to get 20,000 signatures to an online petition asking the Minnesota State Legislature to pass a law clearly authorizing fiduciary access to a deceased person’s digital data. 

This is an unfortunate scenario that illustrates the importance of planning ahead for your digital property.  It is essential to arrange for full access to your data to keep estate administration costs down, to provide for a smooth estate administration, and to ensure that none of your valuable or significant digital property is overlooked.  Contact your estate-planning attorney to include plans for your digital property in your estate plan.  Make sure this plan specifies your wishes about your property and appoints a fiduciary to act on your behalf with respect to your digital property, during incapacity and after death.  Furthermore, ensure that your estate planning documents authorize the companies that hold your electronic data to release that data to your fiduciaries during your incapacity and after your death, which is important for the Stored Communications Act’s privacy protections.

See Jim Lamm, Video Clip: Family Wants Access to Son’s Digital Data After Death, Digital Passing, Sept. 10, 2014.

Special thanks to Brian Cohan (Attorney at Law, Law Offices of Brian J. Cohan, P.C.) for bringing this article to my attention.

September 11, 2014 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Technology, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Article on Posthumously Conceived Children

Daniel Perrone

Daniel C. Perrone (London Fischer LLP) recently published an article entitled, Breaking the Ice: Expanding the Class of “Issue” to Include Posthumously Conceived Children, 27 J. Civ. Rts. & Econ. Dev. 369-392 (2014).  Provided below is a portion of the article’s introduction:

In New York, some innocent children, namely, posthumously conceived children, are suffering the consequences of the state legislature's failure to sync the law with technology. Advancements in biotechnology have enabled people to conceive genetically related children, even after their own death. These children, however, face the dire consequence of being denied inheritance rights, referred to herein as a "class gift," merely because of the circumstances surrounding their birth. Admittedly, posthumously conceived children do not come into the world the way the majority of children do, but they are children, who should be granted the same rights, benefits and privileges that other children enjoy.

August 24, 2014 in Articles, Estate Planning - Generally, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)