As communications technology has advanced, many things that were once slow, cumbersome, and space consuming, are now quick, easy, and take virtually no space at all. The sticky cellophane-covered pages of a photo album have been replaced by a folder of jpeg files or Facebook. Letters that once were carefully stacked and saved in a box on a closet shelf or cedar chest are now saved as emails. File cabinets full of business documents may now exist only in a Dropbox. Account statements which may have once come in the mail now are only in electronic form. Many assets, both traditional and sentimental, have gone from tangible form to digital form. In many cases, the files are no longer on your personal PC, but locked in a user account in the “cloud”. Unfortunately, traditional estate planning doesn’t handle these assets very well.
It is smart to take proactive steps to ensure your loved ones can access these assets without hassle. The following actions are a good idea:
- Create an inventory. Unlike the shoebox full of photos or the file box full of important papers, your loved ones may not know whether these assets even exist if you don’t keep an inventory. In the most extreme example, if your spouse or children don’t have access to your email, and you get your statements paperlessly, will they even know about the brokerage that holds your retirement assets or the bank accounts that you hold your cash balances in? Maybe not. Whether sentimental or financial, keep a list of all of these assets and make sure your loved ones can access that list.
- Keep a password list. When someone you care about dies, there is enough to deal with without having to chase down passwords, and deal with “help” desks and customer service reps who aren’t authorized to be helpful. Make a list of your passwords and keep it in a safe place and let someone you trust know where that list is. Besides helping your loved ones deal with bigger issues after you are gone, you may be glad you have the list yourself if you are like me and forget a password from time to time in an account you don’t use regularly.
- Give someone you trust authority to access the assets. Have language in your will specifically authorizing your executor to access your digital assets when you’re gone. [Alternatively, you can appoint someone other than your executor to have this access.] Make sure your power of attorney document specifically authorizes access to digital assets so that your agent can access them if you’re alive and incapacitated.
If you need help on any of these items, feel free to contact me.
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