Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

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

A Member of the Law Professor Blogs Network

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Option Added to Designate Facebook Heir

FacebookFacebook is now offering additional options to treatment of an account after the user dies in addition to memorialization. As of today, Facebook users in the U.S. can designate a "legacy contact," which includes choosing a Facebook friend to take over the account in a limited capacity after the user dies.

The legacy contact is given the ability to download posts and photos, respond to new friend requests, and post memorial posts to the page. However, the legacy contact cannot delete anything from the account or view private messages. Users can also choose an alternative option to have the account deleted after their death. If neither option is opted for, the default of freezing the account through memorialization will occur.

See Geoffrey A. Fowler, Facebook Heir? Time to Choose Who Manages Your Account When You Die, The Wall Street Journal, Feb. 12, 2015.

Special thanks to Eric G. Reis (Thompson & Knight LLP) for bringing this article to my attention.

February 12, 2015 in Estate Planning - Generally, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, February 9, 2015

Social Media Post Prompts Robbery

Police lightsSocial media posts may have prompted three men to rob a northeast Philadelphia home.  Detectives say three men wearing ski masks armed with pistols kicked in the door of a residence demanding jewelry and other valuables from the 19-year old resident.  Authorities said the robbers had seen recent social media postings from a resident that he had recently inherited expensive jewelry. 

See Associated Press, Pa. Home Robbed After Man Posts on Social Media About Inheritance, Penn Live, Feb. 8, 2015.

February 9, 2015 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, February 2, 2015

Death and Digital Data

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A controversial new state law is making it easier for estate executors to access digital data that include email, photos, and social media posts, after the account holder dies. 

Because many Internet companies limit access to customers’ accounts, when the account holder dies, estate executors typically must obtain a court order to gain access to the account—which can be both expensive and time consuming.  Under a Delaware law passed last summer, executors can now access online accounts without a court order, unless otherwise specified by the deceased.  Similar legislation is to be considered in several other states. 

The new Delaware law gives access to those serving as agents for the deceased under a power of attorney and those serving in a fiduciary role.  This means that the law could extend beyond Delaware’s borders, making it possible for trustees to access digital data of a person’s assets that are placed in a Delaware trust.  

Delaware’s law, called the Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets and Digital Accounts Act, is designed to give legally appointed fiduciaries the same access to digital assets as they would have for more tangible assets, but not without restraints.  The law requires the fiduciary to follow the deceased or incapacitated person’s instruction for how accounts should be managed.  If there are no written instructions, the fiduciary may act how he or she sees fit. 

See Rachel Emma Silverman, When You Die, Who Can Read Your Email?, The Wall Street Journal, Feb. 1, 2015.

Special thanks to Eric G. Reis (Thompson & Knight LLP) for bringing this article to my attention.

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

February 2, 2015 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, New Legislation, Trusts, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

New Option for Retrieving Social Security Info

Social security 1

Baby Boomers and others receiving Social Security payments have a new option if they lose tax paperwork. 

The Social Security Administration is beginning a service that allows recipients to instantly view a replacement SSA-1099 online at www.socialsecurity.gov.  The tax filer could print out that form and subsequently use it to prepare taxes.

Each year, Social Security receives 1.7 million requests for replacement forms.  The online option can save several steps and avoid the hassle of visiting or calling a Social Security office for a replacement 1099. 

See Susan Tompor, Social Security Recipients Can Get Tax Info Online, USA Today, Feb. 1, 2015.

February 2, 2015 in Elder Law, Estate Planning - Generally, Non-Probate Assets, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, January 26, 2015

Article on Planning for a Digital Legacy

WirelessSasha A. Klein (Bessemer Trust) and Mark R. Parthemer (Bessemer Trust) recently published an article entitled, Planning for a Digital Legacy, 29 Probate & Property No. 1 (January/February 2015).  Provided below is the introduction to the article:

Every 60 seconds over 168 million e-mails are sent, 695,000 Facebook status updates are posted, 100 people join LinkedIn, 320 new Twitter accounts are created, 600 digital videos are added to YouTube, and 6,600 photos are added to Flickr.

Digital assets are part of our everyday lives and are here to stay. Recent studies have found that among Americans, 85% of adults and 95% of teenagers use the Internet. Of those Americans, 80% of them (more than 120 million) engage in social media such as Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter, which is more than 25% of all time spent on-line. More than 50% of American seniors are on-line. And a surprising 92% of children under the age of two have a digital presence.

The world of digital assets is broad, but planning for these assets is often overlooked. Further, digital assets have growning quickly, and perhaps too quickly because, unfortunately, the existing state and federal laws on digital assets are underdeveloped. Moreover, on-line service providers each have their own terms of service (TOS) agreements, and these agreements are not uniform. With the rapid growth of digital assets, lack of current legal guidance, and inconsistent service agreements, it is important for your clients to be aware of potential issues that can arise over their digital assets and plan accordingly. As a trusted and well-informed advisor, you should be well positioned to explore these issues with your clients and help them create an effective solution.

January 26, 2015 in Articles, Estate Planning - Generally, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Family Seeks to Access Son's Digital Data

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When Bill and Kristi Anderson lost their son Jake in December 2013 from hypothermia, they were surprised to discover that without a search warrant, the law does not permit them access to Jake’s final text messages, phone calls or pictures.  “Was he abducted? Did he get lost? We don’t know,” Kristi Anderson testified before lawmakers Tuesday morning, “but we think his cell phone could possibly contain some of those answers.” 

Jake’s parents want answers surrounding his death.  Fortunately, Representative Debra Hilstrom wants to help them.  “Imagine if your bank chose to treat your assets in the same way and said, ‘oh, no, you died, so no one can get access to your assets.  We’d all be outraged.”  Hilstrom authored a bill that would allow account holders or a personal representative of the deceased get access to digital assets, as long as the deceased does not prohibit access in their will. The Minnesota Legislature will hold additional hearings to vote on the bill.

See Tom Hauser, Family Fights to Access Late Son’s Digital Data, ABC Eyewitness News, Jan. 21, 2015.

January 24, 2015 in Estate Planning - Generally, Technology, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Article on Probate Law Meets the Digital Age

Naomi_CahnNaomi Cahn (Harold H. Greene Professor of Law, George Washington University Law School) recently published an article entitled, Probate Law Meets the Digital Age, 67 Vand. L. Rev. 1697 (2014). Provided below is the abstract from the article:

This Article explores the impact of federal law on a state fiduciary’s management of digital assets. It focuses on the lessons from the Stored Communications Act (“SCA”), initially enacted in 1986 as one part of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. Although Congress designed the SCA to respond to concerns that Internet privacy posed new dilemmas with respect to application of the Fourth Amendment’s privacy protections, the drafters did not explicitly consider how the SCA might affect property management and distribution. The resulting uncertainty affects anyone with an email account.

While existing trusts and estates laws could legitimately be interpreted to encompass the new technologies, and while the laws applicable to these new technologies could be interpreted to account for wealth transfer, we are currently in a transition period. To fulfill their obligations, however, fiduciaries need certainty and uniformity. The article suggests reform to existing state and federal laws to ensure that nonprobate-focused federal laws ultimately effectuate the decedent’s intent. The lessons learned from examining the intersection of federal law focused on digital assets and of state fiduciary law extend more broadly to show the unintended consequences of other nonprobate-focused federal laws.

January 18, 2015 in Articles, Estate Planning - Generally, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, January 16, 2015

E-Mail Etiquette Rules To Live By

EmailTechnology and e-mail plays a vital role in any business, especially estate planning.  It helps make communication between clients and other professionals more efficient.  However, as with most things, there are specific rules estate planning professionals should follow when it comes to using technology and e-mail.  Below are important e-mail etiquette rules to live and work by:

  • Be conscientious about private information.  Estate planners handle a plethora of personal information, thus, it is important when you send information by e-mail that you are aware about any private information you are sharing.
  • Watch out for the “Reply All” button.  When you “reply all” a lot of eyes may be reading something whom you had not intended.  Use this button sparingly.
  • Use BCC and CC features when appropriate.  Not everyone needs to be CC’ed or BCC’ed on the e-mails you send.  People are inundated with e-mails every day, so unless it is absolutely necessary, use these options only when needed.
  • ALWAYS use a signature.  Many professionals neglect this simple and easy step.  Not only is it helpful in identifying you, it is also nice for others to have your contact information handy. 
  • Reply to e-mails in a timely fashion.  A good practice would be to return all e-mails received during the same business day.  Even if you do not have a complete answer, it is nice to let people know you have received their e-mail.

See Kristina Schneider, Top 10 E-mail Etiquette Rules for Estate Planning Professionals (and Their Assistants and Staff), Ultimate Estate Planner, Jan. 1, 2015. 

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

January 16, 2015 in Estate Planning - Generally, Technology, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Online Trusts and Estates Practice Tools

LaptopLast year saw many developments in technology that effects trusts and estates areas, and a plethora of information about these developments were made available online. Many online practice tools and commentaries on trust and estate planning were made available last year, such as updated charts published by Steve Oshins on state rankings for dynasty trusts, trust decanting, and domestic asset protection trusts. Additionally, many resources on tips for more effective uses of email, Microsoft Office programs, and use of technology in trust and estate practice were made available. There were also many practitioner helpful mobile phone and Mac apps released last year, such as apps that allow computer files to be synched and stored with mobile devices. Links to informative resources on the online practice tools discussed and many more can be found here.

See Donald Kelley, Recent Developments in Tech Resources for the Trusts and Estates Practice, Part 1, Wealth Management, Jan. 13, 2015.

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

January 14, 2015 in Estate Planning - Generally, Trusts, Web/Tech, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Article on Virtual Worlds

LaptopEdina Harbinja (University of Strathclyde Law School, University of Hertfordshire) recently published an article entitled, Virtual Worlds - A Legal Post-Mortem Account, SCRIPT-ed, Vol. 11, No. 3, 2014. Provided below is the abstract from SSRN:

This paper addresses the lack of legal literature in the area of death and virtual worlds. It sheds light on the legal status of different in-game assets, assessing whether these could fit within the notions of property or other relevant legal concepts such as intellectual property, usufruct, or easements. Having determined this, the paper goes on to explore the possibilities regarding the transmission of these assets on death.

The author does not share views of a great portion of the legal literature arguing for recognition of "virtual property" as a concept. Rather, this paper proposes an alternative solution in order to reconcile different interests arising in VWs; primarily, those of developers and players. Recognising a phenomenon of consitutionalisation of VWs, this article suggests a solution in the form of servitudes (usufruct). Virtual usufruct is herein conceived as player's entitlement to use the VW account and profit from it, if applicable. It is suggested that the entitlement to use the account expires on death, but that it allows a player's personal representative/executor to gain access to the account and extract any possible monetary value. This solution would enable players to take more control over their virtual assets and heirs to potentially benefit from valuable VW accounts.

January 8, 2015 in Articles, Estate Planning - Generally, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)