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Helping executors and others manage your digital estate

Increasingly, more of our financial and social activity is carried out online. This can create a dilemma for surviving family members when someone dies. While people can and should designate an executor for their estate in their will, that designation doesn't give them access to accounts that are strictly online, such as some bank accounts and e-mail accounts.

Some states have enacted legislation to allow executors, trustees and others named by the court to access to a person's "digital estate," based on the Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (UFADAA). However, California hasn't yet done so.

As part of your estate planning, your attorney will likely recommend that you maintain a list of your passwords, along with security questions and other information needed to access your online accounts. Of course, it's essential to keep that up-to-date as you add accounts and change passwords.

You can do that on something as simple as an Excel spreadsheet that's password protected (with your executor or designated family member having that password). However, there are also third-party password manager sites like LastPass that allow you to store your passwords and send the information to a designated person if the user dies. However, if you choose to store your passwords with a third-party site, there's always the risk of the site being hacked.

There are also digital legacy companies that make it easier to transfer access information to executors and/or family members. Your attorney may be able to recommend one.

Many people of all ages have a social media presence on Facebook, Twitter and other sites. Facebook now lets users designate an executor to access their account after their death and delete it or memorialize it. This can be a simple way to notify people of someone's death and perhaps share information about things like funeral services and memorial funds, while giving people a place to share condolences and memories.

Some estate planning attorneys have portals on their websites where clients can securely store information, documents and anything that you think will be helpful for those administering your estate. Your attorney can help you with your digital estate as you're working on your estate planning documents.

Source: WealthManagement.com, "Creating an Effective Digital Estate Plan," Christopher Steele, July 20, 2016

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