Many people, including attorneys and financial planners, are not addressing digital asset planning in a serious and comprehensive manner.  Ignoring your digital existence will inevitably lead to a cybercrisis.  First, let’s examine the reason we are ignoring the transition from attending to your personal life in paper and post to electronic entries.

Why are we ignoring our Digital Existence?

The reasons are quite logical. 

If you are an average American, you associate estate planning with an activity accomplished
during your senior years so your digital assets aren’t even on the horizon of

Cryptocurrency is all the rage and the financial industry uses the term digital asset to refer to an asset that has a
monetary value; i.e. cryptocurrency (Bitcoin, Etherium, Ripple, Neo, etc.) and
therefore we as a society are not associating electronic records, such as the username
and password to pay the mortgage, as an “asset”.

Attorneys have
traditionally prioritized clients’ estate plans on assets that contain monetary
value.  All assets with sentimental value
are addressed in a will and dismissed because traditionally there was no value
in naming every single item in a home.

Now that we rely on our digital existence to run our lives, the
process of getting to those assets is incredibly important, even if no monetary
value can be assigned to password and username.

Let’s look at a scenario: Uncle Bill dies and leaves you his big house.  You go to his house with your parents and what do you look for? You look for information on the title, the mortgage, the bills, the taxes, etc.  You look in the drawers in his desk, you look in the kitchen drawer, and you look in the nightstand next to his bed. You can’t find them!

Uncle Bill paid his mortgage online.  Uncle Bill banked online and paid his taxes
online. In fact, Uncle Bill handled all his affairs electronically.

Do you know how to get into his computer?

Do you know if he AutoSaved passwords? Do you know the names
of the companies he used to pay his bills?

Do you know how to get the passwords from service providers?

Do you know if you are legally allowed to get the passwords
from service providers? If you don’t have an authorization form the terms of
service may apply.  Accounts may be

Do you know if the bank is allowed to give you the password?
You need to have a digital estate plan for yourself and for your loved ones
before it’s too late!

Based on the law and the reality of our usage of these
different digital assets, each category needs their own solution. If it seems
overwhelming, take the next logical step. 
Try a password protected spreadsheet or password management software to
start.  Be sure to organize your
information and update it quarterly as accounts change. Make it easy to find on
your electronic device.  Start organizing
your digital life now!

I got a call last week from a frantic man who started getting calls from credit card companies for all kinds of money owed by him and his partner.

His life partner died 3 weeks ago and always got the mail and paid the bills.

I cannot imagine what it feels like to lose the love of my life and before I have even a moment to grieve, the pressure of unknown creditors starts building and building and building.  AGGGHHHHH!!!  Can’t find accounts, no paper trails, no list of online accounts, and no passwords.

What a mess!

And to make the situation even worse, State and federal laws relating to digital assets make it against the law to have another person, not the account holder, get access to online accounts.

In English this means that you break the law if you are unprepared for this situation and you try to get access to your former loved one’s online accounts.

And think about how many accounts you have!

You BANK ONLINE!  checking, savings, certificates of deposits, brokerage accounts…

You pay your rent, mortgage, gas, electric, water, trash online.

You pay your credit cards, home equity loans, student loans, and other debt bills online.

You have Facebook and twitter and linked in and snap-chat and Instagram and Pinterest and lots of other social media accounts.

You probably buy house hold items or repeat items on amazon or eBay or target or Walmart online.

There is an easy solution to this.  Create an estate plan and include a plan for personal digital assets.  To start, you can visit my friend Russ and at a minimum get a digital asset authorization document.  Don’t forget to put it in a safe or a safe deposit box and also put a copy on a memory stick.

21st century technology creates 21st century problems.  Let’s all catch up to the 21st century!

When I was younger, I used to pretend not to notice who my parents liked and didn’t like.
While most of my relatives that were on the “approved” list, there were a couple of relatives that were not.
That’s not to say they didn’t get invited to the Memorial Day barbecues but conversations afterwards were
in hushed tones and all very adult or even worse, no conversation at all. As an adult,
I realize that all families have their dynamics. This includes favored siblings, strained relationships,
and my personal favorite on the inter-generational tragedy list: an old disagreement that causes family members
to ignore each other for decades and sometimes take their grievance to the grave.
Sometimes if you ask them why they don’t speak, they cant even remember!!!

I know this sounds crazy but it happens A LOT in families.
When we ignore familial issues or pretend we don’t notice major patterns in unhealthy behaviors among our children or spouses,
when the grief of death hits them, so does the rage, anger, guilt, and/or fear. While part of my job is to look into a crystal ball and help people craft their future in writing, it seems quite predictable that if you spend the time and energy to create an estate plan but you ignore family drama that involves trustees or beneficiaries, then you are playing Russian roulette with your legacy.  Why do I say that…? When your family includes second marriages, dysfunction in part of the family, family members that have been married more than once, sibling rivalry, and addictions, then you are looking at an increase in likelihood of litigation. Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross introduced a model of five stages of grief and bereavement;  denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. If you combine the anger/fear/guilt/shame/depression that people experience after losing a loved one     add sibling rivalry/jealousy/mistrust/hatred/depression/ addiction then this formula has the potential to: = lawsuit filed in court because parties cannot work it out. To summarize Grief Family Drama=Increase in likelihood of ending up in court. Common situations that lead to court are:

1) Lawsuits over the wording in the trust or will,
2) Challenges over how valid the will or trust is,
3) Beneficiaries suing the trustee for not behaving according to the trust, etc. Solution: You can mitigate future damage and greatly increase the peace and unity of family members by taking the following three steps:
1) As you create your estate plan, address any family “drama” that  may affect parties in the future with your attorney.
2) Upon the advise of counsel,  have what our firm calls a “2 step family meeting” where we all meet, address the issues, and then work them out.
3) Work with your attorney to change or modify your trust draft if necessary to encapsulate creative solutions that will help lower the risk of a trust litigation.