Estate Planning in a Digital World

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What financial information do you store on your computer? In the unfortunate event that something happens to you, will your executor be able to access the online accounts related to that information?

Given today’s digital world, those are questions to think about when reviewing your estate plan.

Why? Here’s a good reason: At present, there’s not much legal clarity on the subject of who’s allowed to take care of your online accounts after your death.

Email is one example. Some email providers release your personal mail, photos and other information—but only if you’ve designated a custodian. Others simply shut down your account.

Here in the US, state laws differ, too. A few states have passed legislation that permit your executor to access your digital accounts so your electronic documents and information can be closed out. Others haven’t addressed the issue yet, which means your executor could need a court order.

You probably have many online password-protected accounts. If you’re the only one who knows the location of those passwords and accounts, finding the related assets and getting permission to distribute them to your heirs could tie up your estate.

Why take the risk? Instead, choose someone you trust to pay bills from your online accounts, delete emails you might not want anyone else to see, and swipe your computer’s hard drive. Prepare a written authorization allowing that person to perform those activities. Then let that person know what you’d like them to do and where to find the authorization and information when it’s needed.

Even in a digital world—or maybe especially in a digital world—planning ahead is a smart idea.

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