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estate planning

Digital Assets and Estate Planning: 3 Tips to Protect Yourself

Estate planning should be a component of any financial plan. The term generally refers to the distribution and management of one’s assets after a person passes away. While it may not be pleasant to think about your death, it’s an important exercise. You can create a lasting legacy and eliminate needless stress for your loved ones by developing a strategy. Estate plans usually include a will, trust and other planning documents.

Estate planning isn’t just for financial assets, though. You also may want to include guidance and instructions for your digital assets. For example, your email could contain important or sensitive information. Perhaps you have privacy concerns with your social media accounts. Maybe you have photos on a cloud server that would hold sentimental value for your family. You may even have online investment accounts or income streams that your loved ones may need to access.

While the world may have gone digital, much of estate planning law isn’t quite there yet. There aren’t many laws that govern how digital assets and accounts should be handled after someone passes away. While a will, trust and other tools are accepted as legal documents to manage financial assets, it’s unclear how these documents can be used with regard to digital accounts. Below are a few tips on how to navigate the digital afterlife:

 

Decide on your objectives for your accounts.

 

It’s always helpful to clarify your wishes and objectives before you take action. Start by listing your important accounts, such as email, social media, photo and file storage, and more. Then think about what should happen to each account after your death.

Would anyone need access to the account for any reason? Would your family need to search your emails or perhaps access a financial account? Are there any assets like photos or messages that hold sentimental value?

Privacy should also be a concern. Is there anything in your email or social media accounts that you wouldn’t want your family members to see? There may be certain information or communications that you don’t want to share with your children or other loved ones.

 

Research how various platforms handle inactive accounts.

 

Most digital companies have policies in place on how they handle accounts for deceased customers. Some are very strict and won’t allow access to anyone else without some kind of court order. Others will allow another person to access the account if it’s been inactive for a prolonged period. Some social media companies will keep your page up as a “remembrance page” with limited access to others.

Do some research to see how your primary account platforms operate after a user’s death. They may allow you to designate a backup person to take over your account or access certain information. If they don’t allow that option, you may need to consider alternative strategies.

 

Create written instructions for your heirs and loved ones.

 

Theoretically, you could include account management instructions, usernames and passwords in your will or other documents. That may not be a great idea, however, as those documents are often filed as public record. That means anyone could gain access to your accounts.

Instead, consider using a password management tool to store login info, and then simply have your estate executor provide that info to the appropriate person. You could also store a document with digital asset instructions along with your other important documents, such as your insurance policy, will and others.

Ready to review your estate planning strategy? Let’s talk about it. Contact us today at Retirement Peace Project. We can help you analyze your objectives and all your assets, and then develop a plan. Let’s connect soon and start the conversation.

Business Owners: Avoid These 3 Estate Planning Mistakes

Every business owner has to make an exit at some point. Some owners leave on their own terms, either through retirement or with the sale of the company. Others, though, exit before they’re ready via disability, health issues or even death. While it may not be pleasant to think about the latter category of exits, it’s important to consider what may happen to your business and your family if you pass away.

Estate planning can sometimes be a complicated process, but it can be even more complex if you’re a business owner. You have to consider how to compensate your family for your years of investment and hard work. You also may have business partners to think about. And you probably want to create a smooth transition for your employees, customers and other interested parties.

Fortunately, with some discipline and proactive planning, you can create a strategy that meets your goals and protects your family and business. Below are a few common mistakes that business owners make when planning their estate. If you can avoid these, you’ll have a good head start on protecting your legacy.

Not planning for probate.

Probate is the legal process of settling an estate. After a person passes away, his or her estate flows through the local probate court. During this process, the court and the estate executor settle all outstanding debts, file and pay final taxes, liquidate assets, notify heirs and handle countless other tasks. As you might imagine, probate can be time-consuming and can generate substantial costs.

Some assets are exempt from probate, but only if they are titled correctly. For example, IRAs, life insurance, annuities and even trusts are exempt from probate because they have beneficiary designations.

Without proper planning, however, your business may have to go through the probate process. That could leave ownership unsettled for months or even years. The court may decide who inherits your business, and it could choose someone you wouldn’t have selected. The legal and administrative fees could also drain your estate assets. You can avoid all this by working with an estate planning professional to develop a strategy.

Not having a buy-sell agreement with your partners.

You may have a co-owner or partners who have helped you finance and build your business. In fact, it may make the most sense for your partners to take over your share of the business after you pass away. After all, they understand the company and have been intimately involved in its growth.

However, that doesn’t mean you should simply leave your share to your partners. You’ll want your spouse, kids and other loved ones to be compensated for your hard work. If you leave your share to your partner, he or she may have no legal obligation to pay your family for your investment.

Instead, work with a professional to establish a buy-sell agreement. This tool governs how your share is transferred and how your family is compensated. These agreements are often funded with life insurance, so you can rest easy that your family will enjoy the fruits of your hard work.

Not choosing a successor in advance.

If you’re like a lot of business owners, you want your legacy to last well into the future. Even after you’re gone, you may want your business to continue providing for your children and grandchildren. And you likely want your company to continue to serve your customers.

For business owners, estate planning isn’t just about handling the financial transition of the company. It’s also about putting the right successor owner in place to lead the company for years to come.

Take time now to think about who the next owner should be. Should it be a child or other family member? What about a key employee? Maybe a competitor or vendor would be best to take over the business?

The earlier you think about these questions, the sooner you can develop and implement a transition plan. It might take years for you to train the next owner. It’s better to start that process sooner rather than later.

 

Ready to develop your estate plan? Let’s talk about it. Contact us today at Retirement Peace Project. We can help you analyze your needs and goals, and then develop a strategy. Let’s connect soon and start the conversation.