Safeguard your online accounts and assets in case something unfortunate happens to you. It sounds morbid, but it’s the new financial task we all need to tackle ASAP.
What you must do now to safeguard your e-mail, photos and online accounts in case something unfortunate happens to you.
When Chanel Reynolds was 39 and her husband, Jose Hernando, was 43, he was hit by a van while riding his bike.
It smashed his upper spine and caused an immediate heart attack, but he made it to the hospital with a trace of a pulse. For a week, until doctors determined he would never regain consciousness, Chanel, who most wanted to be with her husband, had to spend precious hours dealing with a host of problems starting with the fact that she didn’t know the four-digit passcode to his phone.
“That meant I couldn’t get hold of his dad,” says Chanel. (She only had some family members’ numbers; his parents had separated when he was young and were not in contact.) For hours, she tried various passcodes, but the phone would lock her out for longer periods of time the more failed attempts she made.
“Eventually, the doctors told me he could die any minute and they hoped he would be stable enough to go into surgery. They also said there was a fifty-fifty chance he wouldn’t make it through surgery, so I had to do a Facebook update saying, ‘Hey, everyone in the Hernando family – someone give me a call’. That is absolutely not the way you want to let somebody know that something has happened,” recalls Chanel.
Implications of Going Paperless
Chanel was encountering something relatively new in this digital age: when we pass on, we take a lot of important possessions with us. In the past, when information was on hard copy, our loved ones could more easily gain access to our bank accounts, insurance policies, business assets and photos.
Jamie Hopkins, a professor from The American College of Financial Services, explains: “If, say, something untoward happens to your dad and he has gone paperless with his bank accounts, you won’t be able to take care of his finances if you don’t have access to his e-mail.” (In Singapore, banks will only recognise the customer’s executor or administrator as the customer’s successor in the event of the customer’s death. The bank is entitled to freeze the bank account upon notice of the customer’s death until the successor produces a grant of probate or letters of administration.)
This phenomenon, “digital death”,
means we leave behind a “digital afterlife” or “digital legacy” in the form of our online identities and possessions, which outlive us in the cloud – through our e-mail accounts, Facebook and Twitter profiles, online photos and videos, blogs, eBay and Etsy storefronts and more. If we don’t take precautions, our loved ones could lose these parts of us too.
Chanel says: “Because I didn’t have Jose’s passwords, I had to make dozens of phone calls over and over again to try to access online accounts that were in his name only.” She didn’t even know if their wills were updated or if they had life insurance. The harrowing experience prompted her to start a website called Get Your Sh*t Together!, which outlines all the documents one should have in place in case of an emergency.
The Value of Your Online Assets
A global digital assets survey done in 2013 by security software firm McAfee found that the average Singaporean owns an estimated $57,500 in digital assets. This value is derived from tangible assets such as your digital devices, and intangible ones like your personal memories and career information, says Chai Chin Loon, chief operating officer of Assurity Trusted Solutions.
Although over 95 per cent of Singaporeans own multiple devices, most of us don’t keep an active inventory of our digital assets. “Leaving a copy of our wills or our passwords to important accounts to the people we trust is not only necessary to help them settle our affairs if something untoward happens to us, it is also crucial in preventing identity theft or online fraud,” elaborates Chin Loon. Evan Carroll, co-author of Your
Digital Afterlife and author at www.thedigitalbeyond.com, a website that monitors related issues, says: “Ideally, we’d have systems and laws and protocols in place for our loved ones to gain access to our digital materials. Unfortunately, the laws are lagging behind the digital lives that we are leading today.”