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Estate planning for a digital life

Today, the majority of California residents likely use online banking and have a Facebook account. In fact a growing number of Americans are choosing to use the Internet to conduct both financial and personal business. This shift in how Americans interact with and use technology has raised many questions ranging from privacy to ethics. Often overlooked, however, are questions related to estate planning and how an individual's digital accounts and online persona are treated upon their death.

Several questions arise when discussing what happens to an individual's digital accounts when they die. Much depends on actions an individual took with regard to estate planning prior to their death. While a will and trust may account for the division of an individual's physical assets, what happens when a surviving spouse doesn't have access to online bank accounts?

Individuals attending to estate planning matters via digital or online accounts would be wise to ensure a loved one has access to pertinent financial accounts. Keeping and sharing records related to online accounts, passwords and usernames is vital to ensuring unnecessary debts aren't accrued as a result of payment deadlines being missed.

Individuals who have several digital accounts would also be wise to appoint a digital executor who would be responsible for the management of such accounts upon an individual's passing. A designated digital executor may be the same person designated to attend to other estate planning matters, but making the intentional distinction may be helpful and beneficial to loved ones.

When addressing how to handle non-financial digital accounts such as those related to social media and photo-sharing websites, these websites typically have their own provisions for how accounts are handled upon an individual's death. It's smart, however, to review this information and make changes or respond accordingly.

Source: Nasdaq, "Digital Estate Planning Death Traps," Feb. 14, 2013

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