Readers of this blog may recall that a few weeks ago my wife was rear ended by a cement truck. Relatively speaking, it was a pretty good outcome. No kids or dog were hurt, my wife suffered what seems to be a rather mild back injury, and our 15 year old Volvo enjoying a hero’s death, protecting the family at the expense of its existence. It could have gone frighteningly differently however, and that got me thinking. What if one of us died suddenly … and our phones were lost. I like to think I know who my wife’s friends and family are, but honestly, I would almost certainly overlook many people who should be notified of the accident and possibly advise some who shouldn’t have been. The problem being, most of our friends’ and families’ contact information are not in an address book or Rolodex anymore. For most of us, that information is now saved digitally.
From an estate planning perspective, now that we’re into our second decade of the 21st century, it’s about time that all of us start preparing a little bit more deliberately with respect to our electronic records and property. In my household for example, we have three active smart phones, two iPods, one iPad, one laptop, one home computer, and an unknown number of thumb drives … and a notebook soon to join us. We have open accounts with numerous web-based services. We must have, gosh, I don’t know… at least two dozen passwords for personal use only, not to mention the dozens more we need for our two jobs, community service organizations, and school. Were a third person to step in and try to organize our financial and business lives without a written plan or centralized list of what we have and where we have it they would be seriously challenged.
So, my friends, make a plan. Some suggestions:
- First, talk to your attorney about how to incorporate your digital/electronic assets in your estate plan.
- Make a list of all your gadgets, all your passwords, all your email accounts, all the websites that you have to sign in to use and all the websites that have your personal information. Centralize this list and keep it updated.
- Organize and centralize your contact lists from your phone, computer and other gadgets. Leave instructions or notes as to who are personal contacts and who are not.
- If you have electronic assets of any monetary value, be sure to keep up to date records of those items, and instructions in your plan as to where to find them, how to access them, and what to do with them. Examples might include Bitcoins, consumer reward points and frequent flyer miles, and possibly video game assets. (Don’t laugh. I have a relative who sold a video game character he had gradually created from game play for several thousand, very real, US dollars.)
- Develop a plan for your social media websites. Who will have access to them during your incapacity or death? What kinds of things will they keep on your public site and what will they remove? How and when will they freeze or close your profile?
- Back up your information both digitally and physically on a periodic basis, and keep your physical records in a safe location.
- Check your credit reports from the three credit reporting agencies at minimum once a year.
Remember, whoever you are asking to perform this task for you when you are no longer able to yourself will be looking through all of your emails, all of your text messages, listening to all of your voicemails, all of your photographs and videos, all of your of your music and entertainment purchases, all of your apps, reading everything on your computer, and possibly your internet history, domain names, blogs, Twitter accounts, and so forth. So, in many ways, going through such material is much more intimate, and requires much greater wisdom and perhaps discretion, than what has often been expected of someone in a more traditional fiduciary role where the extent of depth was more limited to “business” aspect of your estate. Clearly you need to trust the personal judgment and character of whoever you nominate because they will have access to, and in a sense, will be administering the brush strokes of your mind. To do so, you will need to provide to that person good, clear instructions, and access well in advance of their actually needing it.
Like all estate plans, each person’s personal digital profile is unique. While we can’t actively manage this aspect of our client’s needs, we are here to talk and share our thoughts. Give us a call if you’d like to chat.