Pathway to Planning

Pathway to Planning is a column in the Good Steward that discusses estate and other planning topics. If you would like to receive the Good Steward, please email Erin Mathews, planned giving specialist, at [email protected]

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Digital Assets

Your estate beneficiaries most likely know about “real” assets such as your car and house. But what about your online banking information, digital assets or even Facebook account?

Today we handle most of our financial transactions online. We can even transfer funds with our smartphones. But how will your executor access your online accounts? Many states are still assessing how to manage non-account holder access. Your executor should work with an estate attorney to determine what, if any, restrictions are in place for online accounts.

A good place to start is by determining your digital assets. This inventory will help you evaluate—and possibly consolidate—your accounts. It will also help you determine how your assets should be handled by your executor. For example, Facebook now allows you to turn your Facebook page into a memorial page.

Your inventory of digital assets should include emails, photos, social media and files in the cloud. You should also maintain a list of all your usernames and passwords--there are numerous programs that will help you manage them. Because passwords do change, it isn’t viable to put them in your estate document. But you may want to name a digital executor or create a virtual asset instruction letter.

Because of legal uncertainty, please speak with your attorney about your state’s legislation and ways to properly handle your digital estate.


Health Care

There are hazards and uncertainties in our lives. We may not be able to avoid them, but we can prepare for them.  For example, a time may come when a serious physical or mental illness may make it impossible to communicate your preferences regarding health care. For this reason, it is important to have an advance health care directive

An advance directive is a legal document that appoints a health care agent or proxy to make decisions should you become incapacitated. Your agent will manage your daily health care and be bound by your instructions. In many states, the advance directive may also include your directions regarding various forms of artificial life support. However, some states require a separate document known as a living will.

  • A living will is a legal document that typically covers your end-of-life decisions, such as providing or withholding artificial life support. This document only addresses the different types of treatments you would accept and does not name a health care agent. If you live in a state that uses a living will, you will also need to name a health care agent through a medical power of attorney.
  • Whomever you name in an advance health care directive or medical power of attorney will have the authority to act on your behalf should you be unable to make your own decisions. Often the health care agent is only one person, but you may choose more than one person.
  • In the absence of an advance health care directive or medical power of attorney, medical decisions that arise while you are incapacitated will fall to your family members, your doctors and, if necessary, the courts, which can take considerable time.
  • The requirements regarding advance directives can vary from state to state. Please consult with your attorney and your health care providers regarding your state’s requirements and to ensure that your wishes will be honored.