Remember the days when all of your bills and various account statements showed up in your mailbox every month? Nowadays it seems the only thing that comes in the mail is junk. One of the main reasons our mail has changed so much is because we can now take care of all our bill paying, banking, and investing online. No mail, no stamps and in many instances, no paper statements.
This change to the online world of personal financial management has in many ways made our lives simpler and much more efficient. However, this change creates many challenges after someone passes away and their executor is trying to identify assets and wrap up their final affairs. That is, unless you have prepared your executor to be a Digital Executor.
In the past, prior to our world becoming so digitally entrenched, the process of gathering information regarding an individual’s estate was rather straightforward. You would simply go through the files in their desk to get copies of account statements and tax returns, and then just check the mailbox for the next few weeks to see what showed up. After about a month of checking the mail you had a pretty good idea of what assets and liabilities were part of the estate. However, this approach has become less and less effective over the years.
Many of us, both young and old, now receive our account statements and bills via email and manage our accounts online, so there are no files in our desk and no bills in our mailbox. A lot of us now file our income taxes electronically, and the only copy of our return we keep is stored on our computer. This electronic world can create a host of problems for your executor if they do not have the password to your computer and access to your other electronic information.
The best and most simple approach to deal with this issue is to maintain an account and device logbook. This logbook should contain all of your user names and passwords for all of your accounts. Obviously this logbook needs to be kept in a safe and secure location, but be certain your executor knows where to find it. If you don’t feel comfortable with your executor having access to that type of information during your lifetime, you may have chosen the wrong executor.
Computers and the internet have certainly changed the way we live our day-to-day lives and they have certainly created new challenges for executors and probate attorneys. A good estate plan should ease the burden of settling your estate, so be certain to prepare your executor to be a Digital Executor.
Paul Kellogg is a lawyer with Phillips Law Firm, Inc., whose practice focuses on estate planning, probate and representing entrepreneurs and business owners. He can be reached at (513) 985-2500 or via email at [email protected].