Online accounts raise a unique problem

Dear Readers:

One of the most important things you should do when reviewing and maintaining your estate plan is to make it easier for those you leave behind to sort through your papers, pay your bills, and collect your assets. We have written about this before - every year we publish the List of Eleven as a tool you can use to get things sorted. 

Thanks to the Internet, it’s no longer necessary to pay your bills by mail. While many people still do so, many others have taken a paperless approach. Today, it’s possible to pay almost all, if not all, of your bills online. Big Business supports online payments, because it’s less expensive to send an email then it is to print and mail bills to millions of customers each month. It’s also beneficial to the environment.

Online accounts raise a unique problem. What happens to these accounts when you die or if you become incapacitated? If your family is unable to even access your email, how are they going to find out about the money you owe so your bills may be paid? Sure, eventually if a bill isn’t paid, they’ll mail a letter to your address of record, but that could take months and a significant amount of late fees.

The “easy” way around this is for you to maintain a list of your online accounts, including your passwords. We suggest that if you do this, it’s probably best not to store it on your computer in case it gets hacked. The risk of this is that your children can stumble upon your password list and start reading your email today. It could be very embarrassing if your family finds out about the things you may do on the Internet that you would rather keep private.

There’s a new law, made effective in California on January 1, 2017, called the Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (UFADAA). This law will allow your executor, trustee, agent under a Durable Power of Attorney, or a court appointed conservator to get into any of your online accounts - including bank accounts, credit cards, emails, etc.  The new law represents a change in prior law that prohibited online businesses from sharing account access without your consent.

But what if you don’t want your family to have access to an online account? UFADAA supports the use of online tools that will allow you to designate some of your accounts as being off-limits after your death, to be destroyed instead of being opened to the eyes of your loved ones.

Len & Rosie