On July 25, 2012

It seems that just about every move we make these days has a digital component to it. Our bank accounts are online, along with our bills for the mortgage, utilities, and cellphone. We put our memories on photo-sharing websites and even share our thoughts with hundreds of people on Facebook. In many respects we lead a double life on our computers and smartphones.

To engage in each of these activities, we need an account, and each account has an ID and password. We’re told this information should not be stored online or written down where it’s easily found. In fact, these cryptic combos of uppercase letters, numbers and symbols may be our best-kept secrets. But what happens when we die or become incapacitated? A fiduciary, trustee or executor may need to access those accounts, but how?

It’s becoming increasingly important for all of us to think about our digital afterlife. Whether it’s access to your financial records or our social media accounts, it’s never too early to consider how your online affairs will be handled by someone else. A good first step is to take inventory of all your accounts. Decide which are most important and must be handled by someone else. Collect all of your passwords, too, and create a plan for someone to access them if necessary.

It’s also wise to decide what you want done. Do you want your Facebook page canceled if you die, or to transform into a memorial? You should also become familiar with the default terms of your accounts, and whether they’ll be frozen or deleted after a time. If you already have an estate plan, consider how your online records will figure into it.

Perhaps most important is choosing a person you trust with access to this information in case of an emergency. You may also want to make sure he or she has the technical savvy to manage all of your accounts. This is as important as choosing a fiduciary, executor or trustee because the person will have access to so many details of your personal and financial life.

Younger people tend to have a larger online presence — they’re also much less likely to plan for the worst. But these steps are important to take at any age, because you never know when your real-life status will change to the point that you can’t make decisions for yourself.

Source: ABA Journal, “Of Sound Mind: Make Plans for Your Digital Estate,” Dennis Kennedy, Aug. 1, 2012

· Our firm handles issues like the one discussed in this post. If you would like to learn more about our practice, please visit our Colorado estate planning page.

Categories: Estate Planning

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