Internet makes life easier, but can impede estate administration

Texas residents are using Internet resources for more and more each day. Banking, investment accounts, correspondence and storing photographs are just a few tasks that many now do through online access. However, this might hinder their heirs or beneficiaries in handling estate planning or trust administration. Refused access to password-protected information might be a real problem.

Most people are aware that different sites have different terms and conditions when it comes to access. Reportedly, Google has a specific setting that applies to a deceased or disabled user. It can be preset to allow a successor to use the account. Preventing probate delays or the necessity for a court ruling in some cases can be successful with thoughtful preparation of an estate plan.

Experts suggest including digital assets in your will or trust as you would add in your physical assets. A will and power of attorney can specifically address these digital accounts, allowing for easier asset valuation and distribution when you are gone. A trustworthy person needs access to your secure user and password list. Software applications exist to provide encryption and helpful password management for all your devices and websites. Your executor or attorney-in-fact might be the right person to trust with this task.

An example of problems accessing digital assets after a loved one is gone involves a 20-year-old marine who was killed in 2004 while serving overseas. His family had the difficult job of estate probate and settling his affairs. Because his email provider refused access to the father, a drawn-out court case ensued. Eventually the provider turned over a transcript of the account. Some states, including Oklahoma, are fine-tuning laws to help clarify and make fair these processes.

Including a plan to avoid difficulties should something happen to you will help protect your digital estate. A good way to start is with an experienced evaluation of your present online life. A sound plan can follow. A Texas estate planning attorney can advise you on how to protect these digital assets while allowing the people you choose to access them after your death without having to jump through hoops.

Source: The Evening Sun, “Financial Consulate: The crucial importance of creating a Digital Estate Plan” Ryan Fox, Jun. 13, 2014