What Will Your Paper Trail Say About You?
As with many people of their generation, my Great-Uncle Marcus managed the family finances, thinking he was doing my Aunt Bobbie a favor by leaving her out of this chore entirely. When he died last year, she was left with the problem of having to reconstruct their financial lives based on random pieces of paper stuffed in drawers, buried beneath 40 years’ worth of miscellany.
While it took weeks to try to figure this all out, imagine how much harder it would have been if there had been no paper trail at all for some of their accounts. How much of your life is lived on-line? Do you have bills that you pay automatically, based on emailed invoices and on-line payments directly out of your checking account? Are your paychecks automatically deposited into your checking account? If something happened to you tomorrow, how hard would it be for a loved one to reconstruct your assets and debts?
When I work with clients to put together a comprehensive estate plan, I always include a document called an asset spreadsheet. In just one or two pages, we manage to capture a snapshot of all of the assets my client owns, from real property to bank accounts to retirement assets. We also include a complete list of all life insurance policies. What a shame it would be if your loved ones didn’t even know a life insurance policy existed for their benefit! In this way, we are creating a very useful guidebook for the person who will be charged with estate administration after my client dies. But for those who use the Internet to conduct a significant portion of their lives, even this road-map is not sufficient.
Make it as easy as possible for the people you leave behind to access your computer and any on-line accounts, from banking and utilities, to your social networking sites, by leaving behind a list of your user names and passwords. There are many tools out there to help. You can download software that will capture and remember your passwords for you, so that all you would need to leave behind for someone is the user name and password to log in to your computer and for your password vault. These can be written down and sealed in an envelope marked “To Be Opened Upon My Death” and placed with your other estate planning documents such as your revocable living trust or your will. By logging into your password vault, your loved one will be able to see a complete list of the websites you have accessed and their associated user names and passwords, thereby making it easy to pay final bills, close out accounts or do whatever else might be needed.
If you do a google search for “password vault” you will come up with many options to help you accomplish this important task. Some websites to check out include: lastpass.com; roboform.com; KeePass.com; and agilebits.com/onepassword.
Don’t lead your loved ones on a scavenger hunt after you are gone. Give them a road map instead. It is the loving thing to do.
by Jodie Gilbert