Our lives have always been multifaceted, and it can be hard to keep up with changing trends, especially as they relate to estate planning. One relatively new aspect of life is the one we create online. According to a survey from Pew Research Center, 49 percent of people age 65 or older who use the Internet also maintain an active presence on social media. And as a PricewaterhouseCoopers survey on digital banking trends revealed, a majority of Baby Boomers and older generations conduct some or most of their banking online.
In basic estate planning, clients aim to create a future for their financial and material assets after their life has ended. Now, however, vital assets are taking the form of digital information, like passwords and personal profiles. Estate planners must work with their clients to understand how these important assets should be handled.
How estate planning can adapt
In an article about modern estate planning, U.S. News and World Report details a number of trends in the industry that more established professionals could learn from. Many of them involve creating a central database of sorts for a client, making it easy for family members or attorneys to access bank accounts, social media sites and other digital assets after they’ve passed. Many services allow one-on-one interaction with the client to get detailed information on their final wishes, in many cases going even more in-depth than an advance health directive or final will. Some even provide prompts for family members to conduct between one another at home, which could aid preparation for a more official visit with an attorney or other estate planner.
As one of the world’s most popular social media websites, Facebook has begun rolling out a feature that will allow users to assign someone to manage their profile after they’ve passed away, according to the BBC. By providing this “legacy contact,” a user’s family member or close friend will be able to use the account as a memorial of sorts, but will not relinquish total control. This feature is just one example of the new emphasis technology companies now place on the management of death online.
U.S. News recommended providing usernames and passwords for other sites that may not allow the same level of post-life accessibility that Facebook does. They also recommended providing any other minute details, like how to pay any recurring bills, that will prove extremely valuable, especially in the event of an unexpected passing.
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- Robert W. Finnegan, J.D., CLU®, Published in Trusts & Estates Magazine - June 6, 2018