You're standing waiting for public transportation, waiting in
line for groceries, sitting around with a bunch of friends……how
many people do you see looking down at mobile devices?
Gone are the days of physical document trails and the passing
down of photo albums. Think about it, if you were to die
tomorrow, how much of your information is digital? Who would have
access to both your financial and personal information? What
information would you actually want to have available?
The first thing you should do is separate your digital
accounts into two categories: financial and personal (business is
assumed controlled by your employer, for argument's sake).
Examples of financial data would include online bank accounts,
brokerage accounts, medical history with your insurance provider,
life insurance companies, credit card accounts, tax prep service
Personal data examples would be social networking sites
(LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, email, Match.com), photo galleries,
home computer hard drive, iPhone data and applications, reward
programs/benefits, marketplace accounts (eBay, Amazon, iTunes),
There are laws being created and reviewed to address these
privacy issues that go beyond the scope of this discussion and
have been developed as a result of horror stories (suicide
investigations, spouses left with no online access to joint bank
accounts, etc.). The laws are vast and complicated but that
shouldn't stop you from passing on the keys to your digital
To assist, sample language has been developed for your estate
planning documents such as your power of attorney and will. As
you have given thought to with whom you would trust to handle
your matters, think of who you would like to appoint as your
digital executor. Would it be the same person? Written authority
may grant an attorney-in-fact specific powers to administer
digital assets. At the very least, a will should include specific
powers to handle digital assets and a definition of digital
assets. Finally, it may be desirable to reference an external
list of digital assets and relevant user names and passwords for
Your non-financial digital assets, however, are a different
story. Before you create this list of who you would want to grant
access to and to what, you should review the terms of services on
your digital social media accounts. The terms of service for
social media sites can take precedence over your estate planning
documents and state laws.
At the very least, make a comprehensive list of the websites
where you frequent and how you access them. There are likely a
number of sites you view routinely and don't realize should be
part of your inventory. Pay attention and begin documenting the
sites where your electronic entry is password-protected.
There are also recommended storage options for this
information. Some planners recommend that the list be kept on a
USB flash drive or similar device, and then stored in a fireproof
safe or other secure location. Another option is to pay a minimal
fee for cloud storage services. In either case, it is a
good idea to let family members and your financial power of
attorney know where to locate the information.
It is essential to plan ahead so your fiduciaries and family
members have full access to your accounts and devices in case of
an unexpected period of incapacity or death. Creating a list is
just the beginning. You should discuss this with your financial
planner and consult with an attorney licensed to practice in your
state concerning your own situation. And once you create the
list, be sure to keep it updated.
FPA member Catherine M. Seeber, CFP
, is a Principal and Senior Financial Advisor with Wescott
Financial Advisory Group, LLC, an SEC-registered, fee-only
investment advisory and wealth management firm. Cathy also
serves as the Chair of the Financial Planning Association (FPA)
of the Philadelphia Tri-State Area Chapter.