The prevalence of online banking and paperless statements makes tracking digital assets fairly difficult without proper planning. Your “e-state” – or your online world of usernames, passwords, and online banking – is one of the top three forgotten bequests, along with pets and frequent flyer miles.
Here are some (recycled) tips on how to protect your e-state so it isn’t forgotten:
As more Gen X’ers and parents are doing their estate planning and naming a guardian for their children, they are prioritizing their “E-state.” Electronic assets are one of the top three forgotten bequests – but not for long.
Especially for Gen X’ers, it is rare to receive in the mail a paper bank statement, a paper account statement for life insurance, or actually any paper statement for property held at a financial institution. It’s all in the name of environmentally friendly practices.
But now that most information is stored electronically, it becomes more difficult for family members and loved ones to know what you have when you pass away if they don’t know where to look. When an account goes unclaimed following someone’s death, the financial institution’s only alternative is to turn the cash over to the state’s unclaimed property fund. Your beneficiaries could miss out on your hard earned nest egg.
Your e-state is easily protected with just a few precautions in your estate plan, and more are ensuring their assets don’t go “missing” just because they become incapacitated or pass away and did not plan ahead. With a knowledgeable attorney, it is common today for a power of attorney document in one’s estate plan to include a provision specifically addressing their e-state. And it’s common today for these same people to leave their e-state in their will or through some other estate planning mechanism.
The real power, however, lies in knowing usernames and passwords to your accounts – everything from Facebook to your airlines miles to your bank accounts. It’s all about access.
Recently a mother who tragically lost her son in a motorcycle accident tried to access her son’s Facebook page to retrieve his photos, but she didn’t know his username and password. Facebook denied her access to the account and only relented when she sued Facebook and won. After the verdict, Facebook permitted this poor mom access to the last ten months’ worth of information, but nothing more. If her son had written down his username and password in a safe but accessible place, she could have used it immediately and not sued Facebook – a behemoth with plenty to spend on legal fees.
Hearing stories like this have prompted Gen X’ers to keep this information handwritten on a piece of notebook paper, updating it each time they open a new online account. Others keep it in a non-password-protected word processing file on their PC or Mac.
The point is that they put this information in a place that is secure but accessible so their assets don’t go missing.