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Estate planning for Seattle residents in the digital age

Before the Internet, when a person passed away, an estate-planning attorney might come to the family's house, review the relevant paperwork, and keep an eye out for any bills that might arrive in the mail. But now that many people in Seattle do their financial business, including the filing of taxes, online, estate planning may be more complicated now than it ever was.

The problem is that too many wills don't provide specifics with regard to who can access electronic accounts after the account holder has passed on. Sometimes family members haven't been provided with the necessary passwords to access important records pertaining to the estate. Or, in many cases, family members aren't even aware that online accounts exist.

The problem may be more widespread in places like Seattle than, say, South Dakota, as so many people in the Puget Sound area manage their businesses almost exclusively online.

One way of helping to ensure that digital content can be accessed (or not accessed) after one has passed away is to draft a will that specifies what to do in such an event. Who should be able to see those accounts? Family members? Someone outside the family?

And what about social networking accounts? Should they remain active in perpetuity, or would you rather they be deleted? Anyone who is writing or intends to write an estate plan should address this issue, too, unless he or she wants a Facebook account indeterminately lingering in the ether.

Ideally, the administration of an estate should be a smooth process. Taking these rather modern issues into consideration may help ease the burden for family members after one's death. Carefully writing out one's wishes and choosing an appropriate fiduciary can help make certain that modern times are met with a modern estate plan.

Source: The Seattle Times, "Digital estate planning often forgotten," Patrick Marshall, Jan. 7, 2012

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