Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Private Information, Security, and your Estate Plan

Locating and gaining access to a loved one's assets during an emergency or after their death can be one of the biggest challenges. Today's blog addresses how clients can provide their loved ones with access to this information without risking identity theft. 

     We often mention, to our clients, and in this blog, the importance of maintaining a record of important information. This list can include the location of accounts, login information and passwords for online accounts, contact information for planners and advisors, and other sensitive personal information to avoid creating problems for loved ones attempting to administer the client’s affairs in the event of an emergency or their death. However, we rarely discuss how the client can safely maintain a collection of information, which, in the wrong hands, can lead to significant financial hardship. We recommend a combination of high-tech and low-tech solutions to maintain security while also making information accessible in the event of an emergency.
     First, we provide our clients with a worksheet designed to assist them in documenting much of the important information someone would need to administer their affairs in the event of their death or an emergency. On this worksheet, we recommend that our clients provide their loved ones and designees with important, but not private, information. This includes the names and contact information for planners and advisors, a list of utility providers, nonfinancial online accounts (including social media and shopping sites), and a list of known creditors. This is the information loved ones will need in order to handle the client’s day-to-day affairs. We encourage our clients to inform their loved ones of the location of this information so that it is easily accessible in the event of an emergency. 
     Second, with respect to information that in the wrong hands creates a risk of identity theft or loss of assets, including specific account information, passwords for online access to financial accounts, and private personal information, we encourage our clients to prepare a secure document containing this information, the location of which the client guards more closely. While the increased security makes accessing this information more difficult, it primarily impacts information that a loved one would only need if it became necessary to manage the client’s affairs in the long term.
     There are increasingly complex ways to protect private information, while still making it available in the event of an emergency. The simplest, but least secure, way is for the client to prepare a written list of the information and provide their designee with the location of that list. Using technology to increase security, the client can prepare a document containing the information, save that document to a flash drive and store the flash drive in a location known to their designee. For even more security, the client may use an online password management service, designed to provide a high degree of protection for all of their online accounts and private information. Using this method, the client will store the important information using the service and provide their designee with the secure password needed to access client’s information.
     Regardless of the method employed to secure all of this information, the underlying important concept we are attempting to convey is the importance of client preparation for emergencies. By taking the time to prepare lists like the ones we have discussed in this blog will allow clients to minimize the stress and inconvenience to their loved ones in the event of an emergency.

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