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Give your heirs a clear paper trail to all your estate-planning documents.

Give your heirs a clear paper trail to all your estate-planning documents.

| September 07, 2022

People mourning a loved one already have a lot on their minds — especially if that loved one is you. Even the simplest things can feel like steep challenges, so one of the best investments you can make for your next generation is to ease their way through your estate. As a careful planner, you’ve probably already got beneficiaries selected, an executor named, and your will and other documents in order. But do the people who matter know where those documents are? Can they find the names and numbers they need to sort things out in the way you wanted? 

The Paper Trail

One of the most significant, and most overlooked, parts of estate planning is the simple act of making sure the people named in the documents know that these documents exist, know where they’re located, and know how to get access to that location. In some states, the law assumes that if a will can’t be found, its creator intended that it be revoked and disposed of it. 

With paper documents, store them somewhere that’s secure and logical, whether that’s in a safety deposit box at a bank or a fireproof safe in your home. Make it the first place your loved ones would look.

Keep that place secure, but make sure any keys or combinations are within reach of those who need them. If it’s a bank safety deposit box, let the staff know which trusted family member or friend might someday ask for access.

Paper can be important: Write down the location of the documents and how to access them and give that note to the people named in them. But also make sure you shred and dispose of any outdated will, power-of-attorney papers, or other obsolete documents to avoid any confusion.


Your Digital Legacy

But paper is not the only important thing. More and more of our lives are lived online, both with personal interactions on social media and with financial transactions with online banking and investment accounts. You’re almost certainly reading these words on a computer, and there’s a good chance you’ve had to get past more than one password screen to see them.

Services like Dashlane and 1Password are designed around making our digital lives easier — no more digging up written lists of passwords to access your banking, shopping, email, and online shopping accounts — so it should come as no surprise that they’ve put a lot of thought into streamlining your estate planning. With services like these, next of kin won’t have to fumble around searching for access to all of your email or social media accounts. Instead, just offer one password to whoever you’ve chosen to inherit your data.

But also consider that these services can securely remember things other than online passwords. You can, for instance, use them to record a combination to a safe or safety-deposit box, the PIN to unlock your personal computer, or even a phone number or address for an out-of-town executor, heir, or attorney.

With Dashlane, you can download an encrypted copy of your data to give to the people you trust. It’s kept safe with a password different than your regular password, but contains all the necessary information they’ll need to access. With 1Password, there are several ways to grant access; they recommend either writing down the login information on paper which is kept securely locked away with your will, downloading the information onto a password-protected USB drive, or else using their “vaults” system, which can be shared electronically between different 1Password Family members.

They also recommend researching services like Google’s Inactive Account Manager, which can automatically send a message granting access to your Google-related accounts (like Gmail, YouTube, Blogger, and Docs) to a trusted contact once your account has been inactive for a certain amount of time.

As always, a financial advisor can help simplify the work of devising a sound plan, suggest more options to help secure your estate, and offer reassurance to you and the people you care about.