When computers are being used in kindergarten classes to teach computer skills, it is a glaring sign that our society is fully immersed in the digital age. For some of us, we are completely paperless and perform all transactions online, store all records online, and rush to purchase the latest technology that simplifies our lives. For others, they are in-between jumping in feet first and wading into the digital age. The rest simply refuse to adopt technology and prefer to live as far off the grid as possible.
Regardless of your feelings on the subject, the fact remains that most of us will leave some type of digital footprint when we die. The digital age has forced estate planning professionals to develop new techniques to help estate executors and families identify assets and debts. Furthermore, some of those assets may be digital in nature which could affect how those assets are transferred.
Identifying Assets and Debts in the Digital Age
In order to administer a probate estate, you must identify the decedent’s assets and debts. This is an essential and required job of the estate’s personal representative or executor. However, because more and more individuals are managing their accounts online, there may not be a paper trail to help you identify accounts. In most cases, when we choose to perform our financial transactions online, we also choose to stop receiving paper statements. Therefore, what can you do to ensure that the person you appoint to finalize your probate estate has all of the information necessary to do their job?
- Maintain a list of all online accounts (assets and debts) including the name of the company, account number, website address, login name, password, and answers to all security questions. A hard copy should be placed with your estate documents and you must update that list with each change. You may also want to keep this in a secure account online and include the access information with your Will.
- If you do not receive paper statements, request a year-end statement to keep with your estate-planning documents as a backup for security.
- Make sure to include your social media accounts in your list and direct your executor to turn those over to a specific person or to destroy all information and close the account. Because some people have extremely private information online that they may or may not want some family members to see, it is important you choose a person you trust as your representative.
- Discuss your concerns about digital assets and accounts with your estate planning attorney. He or she can help you develop a plan that will help ensure your executor and your family can find all of your information, accounts, and assets.
What if I am the Executor – What Should I Do?
If the decedent did not leave a list of online accounts and assets, you can search for assets, liabilities, and online accounts several ways.
- Go through the person’s desk, files, wallet, purse, pockets (good place to find receipts), and drawers in the kitchen, bedroom, and home office.
- Search the online history on the person’s computer as well as the files saved on the computer.
- Obtain copies of the decedent’s credit reports to review all open accounts.
- Check for reward accounts with credit card companies, hotels, airlines, etc.
- Google the decedent’s name to find social media accounts.
- Check social media accounts for email contact information.
- Hire a company that specializes in tracking down online accounts and information such as WebCease.
Do You Have Questions about Estate Planning in the Digital Age?
The attorneys of Krause Donovan Estate Law Partners, LLC practice law in the areas of Probate, Wills, Estate Planning, and Trusts. We assist clients in and around Madison, Wisconsin with all matters pertaining to these areas of law. We personalize our services to meet the needs of each client and our attorneys make house calls for our clients if they are unable to come to our office. Contact our office by calling (608) 268-5751 to schedule a free consultation or use our online contact form.
Image Credit: David Morris