“The Internet is becoming the town square for the global village of tomorrow.” – Bill Gates, Microsoft Founder
Question: Having just lost my mother, I’m now more aware than ever of how important it is to make things as easy as possible for my loved-ones after I’m gone or for when I cannot manage my own affairs. It was extremely difficult to gain access to my Mom’s on-line information for bill paying, email and other matter further complicating the situation. What recommendations can you make?
Answer: First, my condolences on the loss of your mother. Dealing with your emotions and all the practical matters at hand can be overwhelming. Typically, legacy planning focuses solely on the transfer of money and legal documentation, which generally fall under the estate-planning umbrella.
When my grandmother passed away, I inherited shoeboxes full of letters and photo albums that told the story of her life. Today, our digital selves – in the form of Facebook pages, Instagram photos, Twitter feeds, blog posts, online bill paying and email accounts may hold many personal details of our lives, so it is important to have a plan for those digital assets. There is a practical side to this as well. As you experienced, if heirs don’t have access to your email account and other online activity, there are additional complications, including the possibility that some assets may never by discovered.
If something isn’t specifically listed in your will, assuming you have one, it could remain a mystery forever. According to a 2014 survey conducted for the website Rocket Lawyer, about 64% of Americans don’t even have a will. The percentage is a bit better for those Americans age 55 to 64 with only 51% not having wills, but that still leaves 49% of us who could leave a potential mess for those they care about most.
If you own any property or a business, have young children, have a history of poor health, or would like to keep money matters private through a revocable trust it’s crucial to have an estate plan in place. Other reasons to have a well-drafted basic plan in place include specifying who will be in charge of making decisions, outlining the care of any minor children, and minimizing state and federal estate taxes. The ultimate goal, of course, is to make sure your loved ones receive as much of your wealth as possible and have less to deal with during a time of grief.
Digital Executor and a Note From Beyond
To accompany aformal estate plan, you might also consider writing what’s called a family love letter or ethical will. This is the idea of documenting your spiritual and religious beliefs, life philosophy, worldview and wisdom in a video or love letter to your family. Doing so can help you organize your thoughts so you can be sure you’ve communicated everything you want to share.
With the internet now common place, you might also create a document with instructions related to your online accounts. The American Bar Association recommends naming a digital executor to help sort through your digital life, whether it’s a trusted colleague or your computer-savvy “alpha-daughter” or son. It’s also a good idea to provide an inventory of accounts and a means of access. This evolving document should be updated regularly, focusing on the most important digital assets.
A FOND FAREWELL
Creating a lasting legacy is about more than distributing assets to those you love. It’s clearly communicating your thoughts, feelings, traditions and values to the next generation. While all of that is very important, there should be a more personal aspect to the process. After all, we’re talking about your life and how you’ll be remembered. Your stories, traditions, beliefs and values can live on. These things make you who you are and should be shared with your children and grandchildren and include hard-earned wisdom as well as tangible assets. Working with trusted financial, tax and legal advisors can help you ease any confusion or conflict that may arise for your survivors. After all, we want to leave memories of a life well lived, not a tangled web of personal debris to wade through. If you’d a copy of our Estate Planning Assessment Worksheet please contact our office by phone or email. Stay focused; invest and plan accordingly.
The opinions expressed are those of the writer, but not necessarily those of Raymond James and Associates, and subject to change at any time. Information contained in this report was received from sources believed to be reliable, but accuracy is not guaranteed.
“Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Inc. owns the certification marks CFP®, CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, CFP® (with plaque design) and CFP® (with flame design) in the U.S., which it awards to individuals who successfully complete CFP Board’s initial and ongoing certification requirements.”
This article provided by Darcie Guerin, CFP®, Vice President, Investments & Branch Manager of Raymond James & Associates, Inc. Member New York Stock Exchange/SIPC 606 Bald Eagle Dr. Suite 401, Marco Island, FL 34145. Call or email Darcie at 239-389-1041 or firstname.lastname@example.org with questions or suggestions for future columns. Visit her website: www.raymondjames.com/Darcie