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Digital Assets 101: How to Account for Digital Assets in Estate Plans

Digital assets are a popular topic and an ever-important aspect of estate planning with today’s digital age. Even simple accounts such as Facebook and Twitter have tremendous transferable value to beneficiaries. However, beneficiaries and clients alike believe that merely sharing a password or access gives the beneficiaries the rights to the account. Ironically, this may constitute a violation of the law if this is how a digital asset is handled in an estate. It is important to understand the transferability, the value and how to provide instructions for transfer.

When planning for digital assets in an estate plan, it is important to help your clients identify their digital assets. Certainly, the best place to start is with an inventory. Try asking them if they have some of the popular digital assets and explaining the intrinsic value to the beneficiaries. Once they have a comprehension of the value, they are more likely to identify digital assets they own. While they may not initially see value in digital asset planning, photos, videos and stories go a long way in legacy planning. Helping clients realize the value of legacy planning can assist with digital asset planning.

After taking inventory, you will have to familiarize yourself with some of the policies of a particular digital asset. Digital assets can be transferred in similar ways to normal assets. Some will allow the account holder to appoint a legacy person and some need specific language in wills or trusts to transfer the digital asset. The only caveat is that some assets (unlike liquid and tangible assets) are not considered property and simply cannot be transferred. Most of this occurs in loyalty reward programs.

One of the most popular digital assets is Facebook. The reason for its popularity is because of the memories it holds. A user can appoint a legacy sponsor to handle the account once someone has passed. The user can also choose to delete the account. The challenge here is similar to that of a beneficiary designated account, someone must be chosen prior to death. Once someone dies and Facebook finds out they memorialize the account. This basically freezes the account and provides no access. Just like setting beneficiary designations (and revisiting them), digital assets that have legacy access should have those designations set and revisited periodically.

Loyalty reward programs are equally as popular. While most are not that friendly within an estate, some have clauses that can be accounted for in legal documents. Let’s take American Airlines. American Airlines has some language in its AAdvantage program terms and conditions which does not specifically allow transfer after death, but the airline gives itself a “loophole” to transfer the miles after approved legal documents have been submitted. Accounting for specific language in estate documents can be vital in transferring a specific digital asset with significant value. This is an excellent example accounting for digital assets within a will or trust document.

Digital assets can be tricky when accounting for them in an estate plan. The key is to take proper inventory, gather some familiarity or help and account for transfer. The great news is, this is an excellent conversation starter, a differentiator in practice and a way to provide great value to your clients. In the digital age we are in, digital assets are becoming more important in estate planning. Take the time to learn how to account for them in estate plans, it will be well worth it.

 

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Scott Huff is the CEO of Yourefolio.

 


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In Estate Planning, Encourage Clients to Be Open With Adult Children

It was the morning I was to return to Denver after a weekend trip to my small Southern Colorado hometown. My mom and I were having coffee when she said, “Anita, we have to discuss some things.” She got up from the table and went over to a filing cabinet and pulled out a manila folder full of papers.

I realized what the papers were as soon as she’d sat back down. Apparently, she’d devoured the book I’d given her called The Other Talk A Guide to Talking to Your Adult Children About the Rest of Your Life.

My mom is a miracle worker with money. And as she laid out each piece of paper and explained what it was, I realized she’s managed to conduct another miracle—planning the entirety of her and my dad’s estate planning without having us do or pay for it. She’s planned out every detail of her funeral down to what seems like a party complete with a playlist. She’s written instructions as to what we are NOT to do (none of that darn crying, no obituary in the paper, etc.) and she’s even paid for it all already.

Of course, I’ll have to disobey her instructions when that time comes. I couldn’t even hold in my tears as she was explaining what was what because the thought of a world without my queen, my hero, my best friend is unbearable. But she has a way of discussing death as though it will be her last business transaction—one that she’s already put in the work for—and one that I should definitely not live in denial about.

“This is where everything is so you know when the time comes,” she explained as she put the folder neatly back in its drawer.

In editing this month’s Journal of Financial Planning—which is all about estate planning—I got to thinking about this talk with my mom and how it would be helpful if all parents would be this transparent with their kids.

So, I did some research and compiled a list of what you could do to help your clients be as open and honest with their kids as my mom was with me.

Encourage them to have the family talk. The talk I reference above wasn’t the first time my mom has sat me down to discuss this topic. I am the youngest of four children, and she’s sat all four of us down in the same manner to discuss her and my dad’s end-of-life documents and planning. On numerous occasions, she has brought the four of us together to talk about the properties and insurance policies and what will belong to whom and given us each the relevant documents.

Maybe your clients aren’t as open with their kids, but they can still sit down with their children to discuss their wishes and their end-of-life plan so that their kids can get on board. They can also discuss the financial and medical power of attorney appointment at this meeting.

Encourage them to be open with their kids about their decisions. Our mom has told us the rationale behind her estate planning decisions so we understand why certain assets will be given to certain siblings. We are all in agreement with these choices. My mom’s openness and honesty has made it easy for us to accept and honor her decisions. Plus, since she’s incredibly brilliant, her reasons for making each decision are sound.

Encourage clients to make a binder for each child. I got this idea from Bob Mauterstock at an FPA Annual Conference session he had in Boston. He encouraged the attendees to have their clients put together binders for each of their adult children so they can have all the relevant documents they need. My mom absolutely loved this idea and has also made binders for each one of us that contains all the documents relevant to whatever assets she has plans to leave us.

The emotional aspect of estate planning isn’t easy, but knowing my mom has done all of this and has kept us in the loop will make this incredibly difficult transition—both emotionally and financially—a little less intense.

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Ana Trujillo Limón is associate editor of the Journal of Financial Planning and the editor of the FPA Practice Management Blog. Email her at alimon@onefpa.org. Follow her on Twitter at @AnaT_Edits.

 


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Financial Planning Priorities for New Parents

Everyone in my life is having kids. And, as the fee-only financial planner in my community, I’ve frequently been asked: “How do I set up a 529 college savings account?”

It’s a good question. But, as another adviser used to say, “it’s the wrong question.” While opening a 529 college savings account is usually a good idea, it’s very low on the list of financial planning priorities. Why ins’t a 529 college savings account a big deal?

Without a 529, attending college is still possible via either student loans and/or work-study programs. Moreover, there is even the chance that higher education might be free in the future, or that your client’s child determines that college isn’t right for them. Either way, not having a 529 doesn’t mean a catastrophic life event for you client.

I’m not saying don’t create a 529 account. I’m just saying that a client’s attention, energy and time are extremely limited—especially if they’re a new parent. So, if a client only has so much time in his/her hectic schedule, focus on the financial planning moves that will make the biggest impact.

What Planners Need to Emphasize for New Parents
A Will. While having a conversation with a client about their own mortality may not be easy, our profession knows that this subject is very important. Parents of minor children definitely need a will. In the will, it is critical to designate the names of the godparents in the instance that both clients pass simultaneously in an untimely manner.

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To illustrate the importance of a will, consider a worst-case scenario: Without a 529 account, a client’s child may have to resort to student loans to finance his/her education. Without a will, a client’s child may end up in a state-run orphanage. Of those two scenarios, which single issue is most dramatic—and which issue should receive the highest priority in terms of prevention as you advise new-parent clients?

Life insurance. You likely don’t need me to convince you that life insurance is important for new parents. The point here is that term-life insurance is infinitely more important than funding a 529 college savings plan. Household breadwinners need to designate their spouse as primary beneficiary with godparents (outlined in the will) designated as the contingent beneficiary.

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Illustrating a worse-case scenario to your client is the best way to effectively communicate the value of prioritizing life insurance over college funding: it’s more important that a client’s child has food on the table, clothes on his/her back and shelter over his/her head for ages up to approximately 18, rather than money for college.

Disability Insurance. In the context of financial planning moves for new parents, a disability insurance policy plays a pretty similar role as life insurance: providing money to fund a child’s lifestyle when your client (the parent) is no longer able to do so. For this reason, it’s much more important than a 529 plan, with a disability insurance policy providing money for food, clothes and shelter.

Prioritize Financial Planning Needs for New Clients

So, while having a college savings account is certainly a “nice-to-have,” it’s not a make-or-break financial planning move. A 529 college savings account is simply not that important. What is very important for parents (or prospective parents) are a will, life insurance and disability insurance. Address those three items FIRST, and then work with clients to open up a 529 college savings account.

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Jon Luskin
Fee-only Financial Planner and Fiduciary
Define Financial
San Diego, Calif.

Editor’s note: Find more of Luskin’s blogs about personal financial planning for employees of Deloitte at UncleDmoney.com.