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Pets and Passwords: What People Forget in their Wills

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Things change quickly in today’s digital world, and Boomers especially need to keep up. It means you need to make sure your estate plan has been updated to reflect the new digital world. And when you do that, make sure your estate plan include some things that are frequently omitted or overlooked – pets and passwords.

It’s critical to account for your pets, online accounts, passwords and even social media accounts.

Pets need a place in your will

Pets. Many consider their pets to be a family member. They are willing to pay hundreds and even thousands for their upkeep and care. They pay for pet day care, pricey medications and surgeries and even pet health insurance.

Yet, they neglect to provide for their pets in their wills. Who will care for your pet if you pass away? Should you leave money to help pay expenses? Don’t assume that a friend or relative will step up. Talk to friends and relatives and have a plan for who will take your prized pet.

How to put Pets in your will 

There are two big questions says Colleen Carcone, TIAA Director of Wealth Strategies. “Number one, who is going to take care of them, and number two, how are they going to afford to take care of them? I have seen clients include provisions in their estate plan that provide a specific dollar amount based on the number of pets that they have at a given time.

“So, for example, I’m going to ask you to take care of my pets following my death and you will get $5,000 per cat that I own. That way the person that is taking care of the pets is not taking on a financial burden that he or she might not be equipped to handle.”

Eric Bond at Bond Wealth Management in Long Beach, California, says he provides his clients with a playbook that includes retirement accounts, non-retirement accounts, tax documents and a pet directive. “I have a form that the clients fill out that says if I pass away, I want my pet to go to this person or that person,” he said. “And that’s just something you can just draw up. You don’t need to have an attorney do it.”

What about Passwords? 

Passwords. Today it’s not uncommon for a person to have 25 or 30 passwords for various accounts websites. There are the passwords for your bank and retirement accounts, utilities, credit card accounts, streaming services like Hulu and Netflix…The list goes on.

Some people keep them on their phones (which requires another password) and some people keep them in little books. Others keep them on little yellow sticky notes scattered about their desk or their home.

“You want to make sure that your will spells out specific powers with respect to any online accounts, be it social media, banking accounts, etc.,” says Carcone. “Keeping a list of passwords is very helpful so that your loved one can have access.”

Don’t pass up passwords in your plans

“We’re in an environment that everything is saved on phones and computers, which is important,” Bond says. “You have to have stuff on paper, and you’ve got to have a good communication with your beneficiaries. They need to share with them saying “these are my passwords to everything.”

“They need to explain the automatic debits they have coming out of their account, the Hulu, the Netflix, the property insurance, the car insurance whatever,” he says. “Because upon your demise, these companies don’t know you’re dead. So, what are they going to do? They’re going to keep taking money out of the account.”

Financial Accounts and contacts

Financial accounts and contacts. “I have in my safe deposit box a copy of all of my estate planning documents,” Carcone says. “And on top of that that stack of paper, I have one list that has the location of all my accounts, my account numbers and the contact person with each individual institution. If something happens to me, my sister knows from this piece of paper that she needs to call my advisor Sue at TIAA and she can help her with all of those transitions.”

Social Media Accounts 

Social media accounts. An estimated 223 million people use social media accounts. Bond says you should share your passwords at least with spouse or children. “You know why? Because let’s say mom passes away,” Bond says. “Let’s say there’s one daughter.  Do you really think that daughter knows all the telephone numbers to all her mom’s friends? So, can she post something on Facebook, like, “Unfortunately mom has passed, and the memorial is on this day and this time?”

Carcone says: “If you have a Facebook account, for example, do you want someone to go in and shut that Facebook account down or delete the account?”

Clearly, preparing a comprehensive will takes time, thought and planning, and to keep up with new rules for estate planning. It’s best to think it through now and make your wishes known now.

Rodney A. Brooks is the former deputy managing editor/Money at USA TODAY. His retirement columns appear in U.S. News & World Report and Senior Planet.com. He has written for National Geographic, The Washington Post and USA TODAY. The author of “Fixing the Racial Wealth Gap,” Brooks has testified before the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging. His website is www.rodneyabrooks.com

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