Estate planning should now include an ePlan.
The internet has had both positive and negative impacts on the lives of modern Americans.
The volume of information now available on computers and smart phones was formerly only accessible at reference libraries or through printed encyclopedias.
Yep, I remember those days well.
People can now access bank accounts or contact family members from anywhere.
And I mean anywhere.
According to a recent American Legion article titled “Estate planning and online accounts,” people now rely on technology in most aspects of their lives.
Consequently, we must take steps to protect ourselves and our assets from the risks associated with a growing digital footprint.
This includes monitoring accounts for theft and fraud as well as planning for what will happen to digital assets when we die.
The digital aspect of estate planning is often referred to as an ePlan.
How does one begin to construct an effective ePlan?
List Accounts and Passwords.
You may have a mind like a steel trap, but you cannot expect your loved ones to intuitively know your accounts, usernames, and passwords.
They likely are not mind readers.
To help your loved ones as they settle your estate, you will need to create a detailed list of your digital account information and keep it updated.
Failing to do so means your digital assets could become inaccessible.
Store and Protect Your Info.
Your ePlan will contain sensitive information.
For this reason, your list should have protections and security measures in place.
You can create a hard copy and place it in a safe.
If you create a digital list, you should password protect and encrypt the file or the external drive.
Designate a Digital Executor.
State laws are still developing regarding how digital assets are handled.
Some states allow for the executor of the estate to access online accounts.
Other states are more restrictive.
In these cases, your ePlan will need to explicitly grant authority to your executor to access your accounts.
Give Your Executor Instructions.
Many people believe simply naming an executor is sufficient for an ePlan.
To set your executor up for success, you should provide directions for managing and distributing the digital assets and online accounts you leave behind.
You can do this by providing a letter of instruction.
Another aspect of digital estate planning includes reviewing and addressing the company policies for digital giants like Apple, Facebook, Google, and Twitter.
Many of these companies allow for a “Legacy Contact” to be designated.
They may also require documentation like a copy of a death certificate to be provided for certain actions to be taken.
Other times, accounts may be closed by the company after a set period of inactivity.
Because the digital world evolves quickly, it is important to keep your ePlan updated.
Reference: American Legion (Dec. 13, 2022) “Estate planning and online accounts”