Digital Estate Planning

– L. Arthalia Cravin

The new “digital age” has thrown a literal curve in what was once a simple matter—making an estate plan. Recently this website discussed two estate planning matters, final disposition documents, such as a Will or a Trust, and, information about Medicaid Estate Recovery, where the state files a claim against the estate of a person who received Medicaid benefits. Now comes something else, planning for access to digital accounts.

The average American may have as many as 20 various digital accounts, ranging from bank accounts to Facebook, to Ebay. These accounts can only be accessed by logging in with information that also includes a password known only to the user. Some accounts add an additional measure of security by requiring the answers to a previously disclosed security question. We are routinely cautioned to keep this information secret. But what happens to digital accounts when a person becomes incapacitated or passes away? For example, what if you are head of household and you are the only person who takes care of all the family’s financial matters? What if you have arranged to receive and pay all of your household monthly obligations online? What if you get ebills for your telephone, water, gas, electric, life insurance, auto insurance, bank statements, stocks and bonds statements—what if you have opted to get all this information sent you online? Now what happens if just before the bills, or other periodic information, are scheduled to be paid, God forbid, you become incapacitated? What if for some reason you cannot pay those bills because you are too sick or injured, or worse, dead? How do these online bills get paid?

Modern estate planning now encourages everyone to do what is called “digital estate planning.” This includes giving someone you trust all of your digital accounts information, including login, password, and other access information. But this is not as simple as it looks. We are regularly advised to change our passwords ever so often to prevent identify theft. So how are we to keep a “digital estate plan” up to date and current? How do you keep current on your mountain of log-in information? Do you have this information scribbled on paper near your computer? Do you have information stored somewhere on your computer? Who else besides you knows how to get access to your email accounts?

Well, it’s something to think about. But this type of planning no doubt falls in the same category as keeping a household inventory. We are regularly advised by disaster planners, and insurance companies, to keep a current household inventory of assets. We are advised to either keep a written inventory of household assets, or to take a video camera and go through every room and recording what’s there. We are then advised to store this information at a 3rd party location—somewhere other than on the premises. But we don’t do this? Nope. Some people don’t even record the serial numbers of their electronic devises in case of theft. So, is it asking too much to ask anyone to now keep some type of inventory of digital account access information and to store it in a safe 3rd party location—or with a trusted friend? Probably so, but at least you know.

Copyright 2012 – L. Arthalia Cravin. All rights Reserved. No part of this commentary may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the author.

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