Years ago, my grandparents were robbed. While going through the house and noting the missing items, my grandmother told my mother she was grateful they did not find the family silverware hidden in the attic staircase. This was the first time my mother had heard of the hiding place and told my grandmother, “I would have sold this house having never found the silverware.”
Nearly everyone has a hiding place for a few special, tangible items, and increasingly many individuals have assets that are not easy to identify or locate. After the death of the owner of such assets, it can be very difficult for the personal representative of the estate to locate and take possession of all of the decedent’s assets.
The internet can complicate matters further. In the past, a personal representative could discover many, if not all, assets by collecting the decedent’s mail, but now, with the advent of online accounts and banking, the personal representative may never see information regarding assets evidenced by only electronic statements. Thus, assets such as Bitcoins and PayPal accounts can remain hidden much like the silverware in the attic staircase.
To assist your personal representative and loved ones in finding both your physical and digital assets, you can prepare a document (often colloquially referred to as a Treasure Map) that lists your assets, liabilities and advisors.
Tangible assets, insurance, and ownership interests. If you have hidden silverware like my grandmother, you can leave a note on where to look in the attic (in this case, literally, a Treasure Map). You can also provide information regarding any real estate or business holdings, insurance policies, credit card accounts, etc.
Financial accounts. For traditional accounts, you can leave the name of the financial institution and the type of account with or without the account number. However, for digital accounts, it is recommended that you provide your current password and the answer to relevant security questions (in the event you change the password), so that your personal representative can access your online account. Even though many internet financial institutions have policies for a personal representative to collect the assets in the account, the policies can be quickly changed and they may not match your wishes. Online merchant stores, through sites such as eBay and Amazon, could just be shut down instead of transferred to your loved ones unless your personal representative can access your store account. Further, if you hold an online currency such as Bitcoins, you will need to provide the private cryptography keys and your passwords to allow the exchange and transfer of your Bitcoins after your death.
Advisors. In addition to assets, you should list the name and contact information of your advisors, such as your attorney, accountant, financial planner and insurance agent.
Original Documents. Provide the location of all your important papers, such as your Will, income tax returns, military service records and any business records and instructions on how to access them. Remember to provide instructions to your named personal representative and other trusted family members on how to find the Treasure Map (which should be reviewed and/or updated every year).
Electronic Data. Provide any internet social and email accounts you want your personal representative to receive control over such as Facebook, Gmail, etc. For more information on accessing a decedent’s digital assets, see the post Estate Planning for Digital Assets.
Security. Once prepared, the Treasure Map will contain a lot of important information. Leave passwords, security answers and cryptography keys in a secure place such as a safe deposit box or locked fireproof safe. You certainly do not want this confidential information falling into the wrong hands.
Creating and maintaining a Treasure Map will guide your personal representative and loved ones to locate and collect your assets upon your death, which in turn will help ensure that your physical and digital assets pass according to your estate plan.