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Estate planning tools can help prevent identity theft

Readers in the Seattle area have undoubtedly heard a litany of disturbing tales involving identity theft. What readers may not realize is that estate planning provides a good opportunity to protect against identity theft after death.

According to a recent study, each year more than 2.5 million Americans have their identities stolen after death, and hundreds of thousands of people fall victim to identity theft in their dying days.

Nefarious identity thieves use stolen information to charge up credit debt and open cell phone accounts, but a simple and effective estate plan can help prevent identity crimes.

It is recommended that people store important account information in safekeeping alongside a will and other estate planning documents.

A financial power of attorney provides a good start to help reduce the risk of identity theft. A power of attorney authorizes a family member or other trusted individual to access and monitor bank and credit accounts. Once a person comes to the point of requiring nursing home care, it may be too late to avoid the probate process necessary to authorize another person's access to financial accounts. For that reason, people should consider preparing estate plans early in life and updating them regularly as circumstances change.

Estate executors can do their part as well to prevent identity theft. Government agencies, such as tax and vital records departments, should be given early notice of a loved one's death. Moving quickly to notify banks, lenders, credit agencies and utility providers can also help limit opportunities for identity thieves to take advantage of personal information.

With so much of our personal lives tied to the Internet these days, it can also be a good idea to include a list of Internet accounts and passwords with estate planning documents. Providing an estate administrator with the ability to close out Internet accounts may help prevent the misuse of online identities.

Washingtonians know well the importance of safeguarding valuable assets. In the electronic age, any snippet of personal information can open the door to theft that impacts loved ones in the most difficult of times. A comprehensive estate plan can help make certain that identity theft does not become part of one's legacy.

Source: Time Moneyland, "Grave Robbing: 2.5 Million Dead People Get Their Identities Stolen Every Year," Martha C. White, April 24, 2012

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