In the not-so-olden days of a few years ago,
relatives might have sifted through stacks of documents to sort out your
affairs after you died. These days, much of your presence in this world is
floating around in the cloud: email, online drives, social media. Even your
financial accounts are probably paperless at this point.
To give your family access to your accounts
after you die, you need to do some work in advance, leaving instructions in
your will for everything from access to your Facebook page to how to redeem
“Most estate plans are silent on all this
stuff – and that is a big problem,” said Kevin Ruth, head of wealth
planning and personal trust for Boston-based Fidelity Investments.
Here are a few tips on how to deal with your
Passwords and logins may be all in your head,
but they are not in anybody else’s. So do a full accounting of everywhere you
might be digitally – Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, bank accounts, 401(k)
providers, bitcoin exchanges – and document how to get access.
The importance of this hit Houston financial
planner Ashley Foster like a sledgehammer around three years ago. The
33-year-old had a close friend from high school who was struck down by aggressive
colon cancer, and he watched helplessly as the family struggled to get access
to all of his friend’s accounts.
Foster took action to get his own digital
life in order - documenting logins and passwords, putting them in a safe
deposit box, and giving instructions to loved ones. He counsels his clients to
do the same.
How you do that is really about personal
preference. If you are the kind of person who uses Post-Its, then use them -
just get the information down, said James Lamm, an estate planning and tax
attorney with Gray Plant Mooty in Minneapolis.
Nowadays there are online “safes” where you
can store codes like this, such as Fidelity’s FidSafe – a service available to
everybody, not just the firm’s clients, notes Ruth.
a digital executor
In a traditional will, you name certain
people to handle affairs if you pass away or are incapacitated. Same goes for
digital property. This could very well be a different person than the one
handling your financial or healthcare directives.
If you are drafting a will now, make sure to
include these digital issues with the help of an estate planning attorney. If
you have an existing will that was drawn up in the past, it is very likely you
need to update it, since “almost nobody” was dealing with these issues 10 years
ago, advised Lamm.
You should also make sure to back up your
information to a laptop or thumb drive, which will make it easier for your
representatives to manage than just the cloud. Facebook, for example, has a
button to do just that: Under ‘Settings’, click ‘Download a copy of your
Facebook data’ at the bottom of General Account Settings.
about your wishes
Would you prefer that your accounts be
deleted altogether? Or do you want them to stay up indefinitely as a
memorial? These are the kinds of decisions you can make now. On Facebook
you can designate a “legacy contact,” who can handle some functions of your
account, but not all (such as seeing private messages).
Remember that sites are not all alike.
Facebook, in particular, is known to be militant about never allowing anyone to
access to your personal account, which has led to questions of legality that
are still before the courts, said Lamm.
be cryptic about crypto
Imagine you are a “bitcoin millionaire” who
passes away unexpectedly: It can be like losing a winning lottery ticket.
“Sometimes people know that their loved ones owned bitcoin, but they have no
idea where it was purchased or how to access it,” says Fidelity’s Ruth. “And we
can be talking about a significant amount of money.”
Bitcoins come with a “private key,” or a
secret number that allows the currency to be accessed and transferred. Bitcoin
exchanges, for their part, have their own usernames and passcodes on top of
that. Leave all this information behind, said Lamm - or your crypto bonanza
could be gone forever.