If you have ever lost internet access or suffered a computer crash, you have likely experienced the jarring reminder of how much of your life exists online. From Facebook to your checking account, family photos to music collections, it’s easy to take for granted how dependent you are on the internet.
Drafting a will and creating a trust are essential parts of an estate plan. But as emails and electronic statements replace paper, and more personal belongings are digital, heirs can miss or be unable to access important digital and financial assets. That means the estate plan you created 10 or 20 years ago may be due for an update.
An experienced estate planning attorney can work with you to update your will, powers of attorney and other parts of your estate plan to reflect your digital life. For example, you may want to add language that gives online providers permission to disclose your electronic communications to those named in your plan.
You can also take steps to organize your affairs without the help of a lawyer. Keep a hard copy password list and update it often. Imagine if you are suddenly incapacitated — even if only temporarily — and the individual with power of attorney tried to access your checking account to pay a bill or to stop an automatic payment. How would they gain access without those passwords?
In addition to keeping a record of passwords, it’s a good idea to maintain a complete list of financial institutions and account numbers with other important documents, such as your will. Especially if you don’t receive hard copies of statements in the mail, your family members may never know about an account if you haven’t included it in a list. Also check that you’ve named a beneficiary for life insurance and retirement accounts so that these funds can easily be transferred to those of your choosing.
Once you have itemized your financial records, make an inventory of your digital assets as well. These could include family photos, videos, music and other content you bought or stored online. Again, list login information, including your computer and phone passwords and PINs. You may have photos and videos stored to the cloud, so include a login such as your Apple ID if you’re an Apple computer user. Back up everything on a computer or other storage device as a fail-safe.
If you have ever forgotten just one password, you can imagine the time your loved ones will spend unraveling your digital life after you’re gone — unless you make it easy for them. Keeping lists handy can also help when you’re traveling or during a hospital stay, so that family and friends who want to lend a hand can easily access what you need when you need it.
Bankier, Arlen & Snelling Law Group, PLLC offers South Florida clients complete estate planning services. To update or create your estate plan, call us at 561-278-3110 or contact us online. We have helped many clients organize their digital and paper documents so that they can rest easy knowing everything is in place.