Estate Planning in the 21st Century: Modern Considerations to Ease the Burden

Hartman-Ben-OPTBy Ben Hartman
Special to Elegant Island Living

The advent of the Internet has changed the way we communicate, the way we shop, the way we learn—and now it is changing the way we plan our estates as well. In addition to the important steps of writing a will and creating an advance directive for health care, there are many new aspects to ensuring that affairs are in order. In this day and age, thorough preparation is perhaps the most thoughtful bequest one can give to one’s survivors.

Assembling scans of vital documents such as a birth certificate, life insurance policies, and bank books is important, as well as anything pertaining to burial arrangements such as military discharge papers or documentation of special memberships.

So much of modern life is conducted online that knowing frequently used passwords is an important part of an estate. Without proper preparation, executors and heirs can be put through a lengthy ordeal in order to achieve access to online accounts, e-mail, banking, and social media.

There are several available solutions. One option would be to write down passwords for the estate’s executor, or to keep a running computer document of passwords. A new option comes in the form of online password management services such as LastPass and DashLane, which are growing in popularity. Users set up a master password that they enter to log in to the service, which then remembers all of their individual account passwords and automatically logs them in to recognized websites. The services can work across multiple computers as well as mobile devices, and offer numerous advanced features to help streamline their use. Employing one of these sites, it becomes possible to provide the master password to the executor and solve the issue without need for further updates or changes.

More and more of everyday life is connected to the Internet. If bills such as cable, utilities, car payments, or monthly insurance premiums are set to auto-pay, it’s important to consider what will happen to these accounts. If pets are micro-chipped, the owner’s name and contact information are stored in a database, and will need to be updated. Some homes have Internet-enabled security, climate control and/or access, and that information is also valuable for an executor.

Another consideration is an online eulogy. Sites such as legacy.com will post obituaries, which allow distant friends to read and share their comments, memories, and condolences. In addition, Facebook offers a “Memorialization” service, which creates a standing archive of one’s Facebook timeline that others can then view and comment on in perpetuity. These arrangements may be made in advance as part of thoughtful and thorough preparation.

Estate plans are evolving to take modern concerns into account and an experienced attorney can assist in the process of incorporating those concerns into new or existing plans.

Ben Hartman is a partner in the estates and trust practice group at HunterMaclean. He can be reached at 912-262-5996 or bhartman@HunterMaclean.com.