Digital accounts should be included in estate planning documents

For those that are motivated by deadlines, the concept of estate planning may not spur them into action. In times of health and prosperity, it may even seem morbid to think about inheritances for one’s heirs.

Yet without a will or trust in place, heirs may find it next to impossible to sort through a decedent’s digital assets. From online banking to retirement and life insurance accounts, a growing number of Americans opt out of paper statements in favor of electronic statements. With no paper trail, the challenge of creating an accurate inventory and financial picture from digital accounts -- each with its own password -- may indeed become a puzzle.

A simple way to plan for the contingency of unexpected tragedy is to include online password access to fiduciaries. Social media accounts might also be included in that listing, as Facebook and Twitter accounts that are left open may lead to awkward communications or expectations from a decedent’s surviving friends and family.

Even if an individual isn’t ready to memorialize how he or she would prefer assets to be distributed in the event of death, a meeting with an estate planning attorney can at least start the process of preparing the legal, financial and insurance instruments needed to avoid putting surviving loved ones and friends in the position of having to pay for estate bills and search for assets in the dark. An attorney can even help an individual think about tax implications of various actions, possibly preserving more assets for the future.

Source: USA Today, “Estate Planning 101: Don't forget digital assets,” Eric McWhinnie, May 25, 2014

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