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article imagePlanning for your digital estate Special

By Cadie Carroll     Oct 30, 2013 in Business
It is the age of the Internet, with all its convenience and opportunity. But as more and more people embrace the World Wide Web, there are emerging challenges that must be considered.
One of those challenges is what happens when someone dies, and that person’s relatives know nothing of their digital assets?
This question was addressed recently by Morningstar and the New York Times.
Attorney Brad Wiewel, an estate planning expert with the Wiewel Law Firm in Austin, Texas, recently spoke with Digital Journal about why it is important to plan for your digital estate and the strategies that should be employed.
“People do most of their banking and financial planning online – and it’s good that they do – but the problem is that if the surviving family members or whoever is supposed to take over and manage these assets don’t have access to it [digital estate] then it may require going to court and getting specific court order for access which again may or may not work,” Wiewel said.
“A lot of companies will literally delete email accounts and won’t allow anybody to have access to it, and there is a lot of vital information there.”
Wiewel also explained how to cover at least the bare minimums in terms of managing your digital assets.
“Everyone needs to look at the plan they've got now and make sure at a minimum there are explicit and expressed provisions that allow someone to manage their email, website and financial accounts if they’re incapacitated or dead,” Wiewel said.
And how often do you need to update that plan? Wiewel says at least every five years, and every three at best.
“These things [digital assets] are moving so fast… three and five years ago people were doing a lot less banking online and now that’s completely changed,” he said. “They've got to have language in there that brings their estate plan into the twenty-first century.”
Lastly Wiewel touched on the topic of passwords -- something that poses a problem for many as writing down and documenting them can be seen as one of the quickest and easiest ways to get your identity stolen and subject yourself to fraud. However he notes it is important to document them somehow so that in the case of death or incapacitation, there will be an explicit plan laid out as to who can access your digital accounts and how they can do so.
The Washington Business Journal recalls the tale of Leonard Bernstein, a late American composer, conductor and pianist, who left the valuable manuscript for his memoir on his computer in a password protected file that has yet to this day been cracked. This is just one example of how vital pieces of information, whether personal or financial, can be lost forever if a plan is not in place.
“The problem with passwords is that nobody knows where they are, nobody knows how to access them,” Wiewel said. “What we recommend is that you keep a record of either what the passwords are or where somebody can find them. Passwords change often, so the [estate planner] just needs to use diligence and keep that up-to-date or, again, it will be a really big problem.”
It is clear that with all of the planning and effort that goes into managing the succession of your physical estate, it only makes sense to devote an equal amount of focus to planning for your digital estate as well. To learn more about planning for your digital estate, click here.
More about Estate, estate planning, digital estate, Digital, Technology
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