HOW WILL YOUR FAMILY KNOW WHAT YOU OWN? WHAT YOU OWE? WHERE IS IT? HOW DO THEY ACCESS IT?
A recent article in USA Today stated unclaimed property is now the third largest source of revenue for state government. States are holding $33 billion of unclaimed property. Why? Because someone forgot they owned it or they died without telling someone else they owned it. Pay Attention! Your personal property and your digital assets are not governed by state law and do not have automatic inheritance rights. Unlike your real estate or your bank accounts, there are no default laws defining who inherits this property or has rights to it. Documenting what you own and what you owe is imperative.
It is equally important to document how to access your electronic financial records or other digital assets. Many of us routinely store personal and financial information on a computer or on a hosted web site. Some of us don’t even keep paper records. Unless you tell someone how to access this information, they may not be able to do so.
- What is the best way to document your personal property and how you want it divided when you die?
- Why is it necessary to document what you own and what you owe?
- How do you gain access to email or other business processes stored on hosted sites?
- How will someone gain access to data stored on your personal computer?
For many families, deciding who will inherit personal property is a big emotional event. Memories are sometimes more important than money. Your heirs are more likely to argue about personal property than anything else you own.
There are several ways to deal with personal property and keep the peace at the same time. First, you should decide who is going to get what. Just your children? Other close relatives? Friends? You can decide. It’s your property, after all.
If you have a will or trust, specify in your will or trust who gets what. Your will or trust should also reference a specific Personal Property Attachment which lists who gets what.
Q. What is the best way to document your personal property and how you want it divided when you die?
A. Many products are available to help make a list of your personal property. The information can be completed by hand or stored in electronic records. Most products provide a way to inventory your house room to room and list and photograph personal property in each room. ibutton: Family Notebook Reviews www.diesmart.com/ibutton
You can provide detailed information such as what it is, where you got it, if it’s an heirloom, etc. You can include who you would like to receive it when you die.
You can also use a digital recorder and make an audio tour of your house, recording items as you walk through each room.
The important thing is that you document what you have, where it is and who gets it when you die. Be aware that simply making a list of your personal property may no be deemed valid and legally enforceable upon your death unless the list is referenced within your will or trust.
Q. Why is it necessary to document what you owe and what you own?
A. If you have a safe deposit box or a bank account, the financial institution where the account is held has no legal obligation to locate the owner of the account. In some states, the bank is required by law to send a notice to your last known address, informing you that your account will be transferred to the State Controller for safekeeping if you do not notify the institution of your intent to maintain your account.
If the institution is unable to contact you, or if you fail to contact the institution, the law requires the custodian of your account to remit the account to the state for safekeeping. The State Controller’s Office will send a notice informing you of your Unclaimed Property, provided it is able to find a more current address by matching your reported Social Security number with the Franchise Tax Board’s records. For example, the State Controller publishes a notice in newspapers of general circulation in each county annually to inform California residents that they may have unclaimed property.
If the notice is sent after your house is sold, or if for some reason the post office does not forward the notice to your heirs, your heirs will have no knowledge of these accounts. The state will now own your property. The legal term for this process is escheatment.
How can you make sure this does not happen to you? One of the best gifts you can leave is information about property you own, money you owe, and money owed you. Making a list of what you own and what you owe will be a great help to your estate representative. It is information they need to know but you won’t be around to tell them.
Your digital assets
Q. How do you gain access to email or other business processes stored on hosted sites?
A. If you own a small business and your accounting or sales procedures are managed on hosted web sites (for instance Yahoo, Google, eBay, etc.), it is critical that someone knows how to access these accounts. Digital assets are considered personal property. There are no default laws determining who has rights to access these assets or statutes an Internet Service Provider (ISP) must follow when someone dies.
The result. Each ISP has set their own policies on whether they will provide passwords or user IDs to your spouse, executor or trustee when you die. Some ISPs may not.
If you work in a small business, your chief executive officer or chief financial officer may not be able to access company files without your passwords.
When you set up accounts on hosted services, ask what their policy is regarding user IDs and passwords when someone dies. Plan accordingly. Create and maintain a list of URLs, user IDs and passwords for important data.
Personal computer files
Q. How will someone gain access to data files stored on your personal computer?
A. You own the data on your PC. You have the right to leave instructions on who inherits any intellectual property stored there. If you have data you don’t want someone to see after you die, be sure to delete it on a scheduled basis. Don’t forget to leave any user IDs or passwords someone will need to log on to your computer.
Fact: Internet Service Provider Policies
AOL. If you have an AOL e-mail account, your executor or trustee can send a letter to AOL requesting your user ID and password, accompanied by a certified copy of your death certificate. AOL will then disclose your user ID and password.
YAHOO. Yahoo will not provide anyone with your user ID and password when you die. Your executor, spouse or business partner will not be able to obtain your user IDs and passwords for any e-mail or other accounting or sales data hosted on their sites.
MSN. If you have an e-mail account with Microsoft, Microsoft will give your executor or spouse access to your address book and instant messaging contacts. They will not disclose your user ID and password. Your e-mail messages can’t be read or responded to by anyone who does not know your user ID or password.
ibutton: Internet Service Provider Password Policies. diesmart.com/ibutton