Category: Business Succession
Tags: Estate Planning, Financial Planning, Wills


Digital Estate Planning Challenges

Posted on: February 15th, 2013
digital estate planning attorneyEstate planning has always involved a great deal of paperwork. Today, individuals have personal access to online banking, social media accounts, and email that has pushed the industry into a new realm: Digital estate planning.
 
Paperless banking. Online payments. These may be saving paper and time, with less material and time needed for appropriate filing, but the digital benefits available today are creating more paperwork with a solid digital estate plan.
 
Families can prevent complicated password recoveries and long difficult attempts for access to their deceased loved one’s electronic accounts by taking a few measures into their own hands. A simple list of an individual’s usernames and passwords for their various accounts helps surviving family members transition finances. However, one must be aware that user agreements may technically prohibit access by anyone other than the original account holder.
 
With so many people relying on electronic automatic bill payments and many couples splitting financial responsibilities so that one member is unaware of draft and payment terms, a digital estate plan is almost a necessity today. What should be included in a digital estate plan? Access information to:
 
  • Online banking
  • Email accounts
  • Social media profiles
  • Music and movie accounts such as iTunes and Netflix
  • Credit cards
  • Frequent flyer miles
  • Retirement and investment accounts
Some families and individuals rely on an online presence for their businesses. When a partner passes away, losing that access could mean lost income, business, and other long-term effects. Access to these accounts is critical, but most websites and institutions are not yet equipped to offer quick access solutions for those grieving the loss of their loved ones.
 
Since banks and other companies differ on their post-death access policies, digital estate planning is best done by an estate planning attorney who addresses, to the extent possible, the terms of the different financial institutions, email providers, and social media companies.
 
The Uniform Law Commission, the group that suggests state laws, is creating a law affecting digital asset access that states could adopt and enforce. North Carolina currently has no laws addressing this important issue. Digital estate planning might be a fairly new idea, but it is one that will develop and stay for the long-term. 
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