Estate Planning in the 21st Century
Computers have changed the way we live – and for those concerned with estate planning – the way we have to prepare for death. Our increased reliance on technology has created a new asset – online digital data – that needs to be managed just like any other estate planning asset. Failure to include your digital information (passwords, access codes, logins, usernames, and the like) in your estate planning documentation will cause your heirs a lot of heartache.
Take the heirs of Leonard Bernstein. It’s been over 20 years since arguably one of the greatest American composers of all-time died and no one’s been able to crack his digital account information. And, yes, they’ve tried “I feel pretty.” His password-protected computer contains his personal memoirs and who knows what else – music to another West Side Story?
Creative Solutions in the Digital World
Computers are not all bad. They have spawned creativity and ingenuity beyond what we could have ever dreamed of in the days of white-out and post-it notes. We in turn have to be creative in crafting estate planning documentation.
One solution is to give your passwords and other secure information to a family member or trusted friend. That might not appeal to everyone however.
Who wants Mom to have access to their Facebook accounts? I thought that’s what security settings were for. Darn you Facebook.
Have no fear – a number of other digital solutions exist too:
These services are helpful, but sole reliance on them is a mistake. Your heirs could still have difficulty accessing these accounts. And until the technology is proven relying on these services can be a scary prospect. Companies providing these services come and go.
The best course of action is to devise your digital information through your estate planning documentation – like a will or better yet, a living trust. Properly drafted estate planning documentation helps your heirs to administer your estate with minimal cost and delay.
Like technology which is ever-evolving, there are numerous unanswered questions in this realm of estate planning. For instance, can digital files (like i-tunes) be devised to heirs through estate planning documentation? Arguably, i-tunes and other new-fangled digital formate are merely liceneses to use the media, which cannot be passed onto heirs in the same manner as physical assets.