Reports are that musician Prince died without leaving a will. You may not have millions in assets, but have you acted to take care of your estate and your heirs after you pass away? If so, have you considered the digital aspects of your legacy?
Technology has required a change in end-of-life planning. Many important bits of information are stored online or in the cloud that spouses or heirs can find themselves locked out of due to a lack of password. It is also not practical to change a will every time you change a password.
New companies have sprung up to take advantage of this need. Digital estate planners help you take care of all of your end-of-life planning, while compiling the necessary passwords and digital footprints that you wish to pass on to others. With names like Everplans.com, Final Roadmap, Planned Departure, and The Digital Beyond, these sites offer comprehensive services to ensure that important information is passed down to the proper parties and that your wishes are clearly noted and accessible.
Digital estate planners offer a useful combination of convenience and security. They allow you to upload all of the typical documents such as wills, health care directives, and trusts. You can also lay out and store plans for anything else you want to be addressed after death like the details of your funeral (to the extent you want to dictate them), the disposition of all your online accounts (financial and social), appraisals and dispositions of family heirlooms, important photos, and details of family genealogy.
Even day-to-day details could be included — for example, to help heirs handle a home that is passed down. How many bills are there, and where are they routed? Where are the water and gas shutoffs? Is there important maintenance information such as roof replacement or foundation piers that will be important in assessing the home's value? A bit of pre-emptive planning now could save your heirs a lot of time, and potentially keep your home intact.
Digital planning sites allow you to choose who has access to your information and when they can access it (currently, at some future date, or upon your death). Be sure to keep this information current, and let your chosen designees know about the site and that you have chosen them as one of the guardians of your information.
There is one potential downfall of digital estate planning — the long-term viability of the company that you choose. It is wise to keep a backup copy of the most important online documents such as your will, but remember to update both the online and backup copies at the same time. Otherwise, you may have two versions of your paperwork and confusion (and probably legal fees) will ensue. Remember to let at least one person know that the documents exist and where they are being kept.
Before you dive into the world of digital estate planning, we suggest that you take time to reflect on your wishes and discuss them with your family. These sites will ask in-depth questions that you really do not want to decide on in the spur of the moment. Do not forget to consult with a lawyer on all areas that require legal assistance, such as wills, business succession plans, or intellectual property holdings. Take special care with your health care directives and other end-of-life requests.
Consider if a digital planning site can meet your end-of-life needs. You can save your family from having to make incredibly difficult decisions under stress.