BOB GINSBERG, a retired production manager for an educational publisher, is worried that he does not know any of the logins and passwords for online accounts belonging to his partner or brother and they do not know his. At 72, he said his concern was not about Facebook or e-mail. It was for their financial lives, which have migrated online, making paper account statements anachronistic. Now, when people die without disclosing their financial affairs to anyone, there is often no paper trail for heirs to follow.
Back in the day, there were checkbooks, stock and bond certificates and hardcopy statements showing your dividends and interest. Then again, there were only a handful of television viewing options, a test pattern at the end of the broadcast day and the youngest sibling was the “remote control” to change channels. Now, most of life is digital, to include your estate.
What planning have you done for your digital assets? Would your love ones be able to navigate the system of digital accounts, portals and passwords when needed? The conundrum of how to understand and plan for the maintenance of a digital life is not new, but it is growing. Everyone – people of all walks of life – has some tie to the internet and most have something worth protecting there. Much can be said about Facebook accounts for their social value and the sentimental value of pictures hosted there, but there is far more to it. When speaking to a banker last week, I sat in amazement as he explained that virtual banking had become so prevalent that more than 50% of their branches had been closed within the Tidewater area in the last 5 years.
A recent article in The New York Times titled “Leaving Behind the Digital Keys to Financial Lives” picked up on this theme since we do most of our banking and investing online. If you go to the effort to document your legal wishes in an estate plan for the control and management for your estate, then they at least need to know the “what” and the “where” regarding the estate to control and manage.
Unfortunately, digital accounts have few paper trails by their very nature and passwords may change every week. Simply put, you have to plan to hand over the keys to your digital estate and that often can take more diligence than planning for the keys of the family home.
As helpfully summed up over in the original article:
People needed to think about five things to ensure that everything goes smoothly with their digital financial lives if they become incapacitated or die: they need to maintain a list of their digital information; send the information to someone they trust; make sure other people know who has the information; leave instructions for how everything should be handled; and note all of this in an estate plan and update it regularly.
You can learn more about this topic as well as other strategies on our website under the tab entitled: estate planning in Virginia. Be sure you also sign up for our complimentary e-newsletter so that you may be informed of all the latest issues that could affect you, your loved ones and your estate planning.
Reference: The New York Times (May 24, 2013) “Leaving Behind the Digital Keys to Financial Lives”