Most clients have made plans to dispose of their tangible property after they’ve gone. But these days, people have an awful lot of intangible property to deal with as well.
No one is too worried about what’s going to happen to their Twitter account, but there are some significant financial issues that should be considered when it comes to a client’s digital footprint. Many advisors have even gone so far as to set up digital estate plans for their more wired clients.
Clients considering a digital estate plan should focus on their financial life online, which for many of us has grown into a many tentacled beast. Here are some things to keep in mind:
Clients should maintain a list of all the financial sites they access. Some of these are obvious, like bank and brokerage accounts, credit cards, mortgage accounts, loans, utility bills and other online payments. Others are less obvious, such as accounts at places like Amazon, eBay and iTunes. There are also online payment accounts, such as PayPal, that should be noted.
The deposit accounts, which may seem like the most serious concern, are probably the least of the client’s worries. The money in those accounts will be accounted for in the client’s will, and banks and brokerages are used to dealing with customers who pass away.
Other accounts may require more attention. The client may have money in a PayPal account or may have debts to be paid because of eBay purchases. There may be transferable benefits from a frequent-flyer account. These aren’t likely to be significant amounts of money, but they still ought to be accounted for.
The client should name a “digital executor.” This is the person empowered to deal with all the client’s digital assets, and he or she should have access to the list of online accounts, including all passwords and directions. There’s no legal status for this person, but it should be someone whom the client trusts and who has a facility with online maneuvering. (A grandchild might be a good choice.)
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Google, which is generally ahead of the curve, has created a program that can be of help in this area. Google’s Inactive Account Manager allows the client to name an heir of sorts who can gain access to the client’s online data once his or her accounts have been inactive for a certain period of time.
Are there digital heirlooms worth preserving? Aside from the financial considerations, most of us live a good deal of our personal lives online. It’s worth your clients’ time to consider how much of this should be curated after they’re gone. Perhaps the have a personal or company website they’d like to see continued. Perhaps they have a blog they’d rather see shut down than persist into eternity. Maybe they have accumulated photos on Facebook or Instagram that they’d like to see put into the hands of the proper persons before they disappear into the ether. Most clients haven’t thought about this issue and would likely appreciate their advisor’s concern, even if they do absolutely nothing about it.
Find a safe place to put all this information. Security is of prime concern here, since identity theft could be a real problem if all the information fell into the wrong hands. A printed copy of all passwords and other data, kept in a safe or other secure place, could be one option.
There are online solutions as well. Legacy Locker stores all your information in the cloud and requires the client to name two separate people to contact in case of death. (They even have to provide a copy of the death certificate.) That prevents anyone from trying to claim the client has died in order to get to their data. Legacy Locker also lets the client name different beneficiaries for different online accounts. A similar offering, Secure Safe, is from Switzerland — and the Swiss know their way around secure accounts.
A different type of security is provided by Javont Vault, which doesn’t connect to the Internet at all but simply sits on your home PC. That keeps hackers and other breaches to a minimum. The client’s digital executor would be the only other person granted access to the account.
Finally, put a plan in writing. No one is going to go digging around the decedent’s computer looking for postmortem instructions. Make sure their wishes are clear and easily findable. When it comes to one’s online legacy, it can’t all be done online.