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Estate planning that includes your online accounts

With estate planning, if you don't let your beneficiaries know of all the accounts, both electronic and traditional, your assets may be extremely difficult for them to access when you pass away. In the past, a paper trail was often left so that there were clues as to where assets were located. However now, with many accounts handled online, it is hard to find those clues unless they are intentionally left behind.

An estate is responsible for all debts left behind and if your relatives don't know what you pay online, this could mean the bills go unpaid. This could cause problems because most credit card companies charge late fees for bills that are unpaid. They might wave these fees, but it takes time and effort.

Those bills that are on auto-pay are also a potential problem because they may get paid when they aren't due anymore. Checking the deceased person's wallet, desk or lockbox may help in finding those bills that are being paid online. Obtaining the credit report of the deceased person is an excellent way to discover those accounts that are open. A death certificate and a power of attorney or proof that you are the executor of the estate is usually required.

Reward programs also may need tracking in estate planning after a death has occurred. Those accounts, such as online poker accounts or even weapons in online gaming systems have value. Digital accounts have been valued at $54,722 on average and the list includes music downloads, photographs, health and financial records, career information and hobbies. You would be surprised to find that even a 91-year-old person can have a reward points program that doesn't automatically notify the person's email account. There are companies that will do the search for your deceased relative's online accounts, and this can be especially helpful after a death when you are grieving a loss.

There are steps in estate planning that can be of value to your beneficiaries, such as keeping a snail mail trail by writing down your username and passwords, consolidating your accounts, providing the name of the institution and the account number of all your accounts and specifically naming an online executor. If you find yourself questioning whether your estate is in a good, solid place, you may want to consult a professional to help guide you through this sometimes confusing process.

Source: Fox News, "Tips for planning your estate for the digital age" Karen Haywood Queen, Mar. 21, 2014

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