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Email accounts can cause difficulties for heirs

Today's Florida residents who are thinking about estate planning may overlook one important thing: the Internet. Anyone who has an online presence -- email accounts, web pages or social networking accounts -- should think about what heirs will be dealing with if they can't access these accounts. The legalities of passing on email accounts and other online possessions are murky due to the relative youth of the digital age, which is why planning ahead of time is a wise idea, especially for someone who conducts business or pays bills online.

Consider the case of two siblings whose brother died and left no way for them to access his email account. A lengthy court battle left the brother and sister unable to obtain their late brother's password from the email provider legally.

This scenario could easily happen to anyone, since most people don't think of their email account as something to be passed on to a relative. The problems caused by not having access to a deceased loved one's email could be serious if they used email to receive financial statements or pay bills.

The simplest way to be sure that someone can access an online accounts is to tell them the passwords. This may not be desirable, however, or the owner may change the passwords frequently and find it too difficult to keep the other person up to date on them. But sharing the passwords of just the most important accounts could spare the account owner's survivors a lot of hassle.

An attorney with experience in estate planning could serve as a guide through the process of creating a will and making other end-of-life decisions. They could answer questions and suggest options to ensure that the person's wishes are met and their loved ones will not encounter unexpected obstacles.

Source: Forbes, "When Heirs Must Battle For Access To E-mail Accounts", Deborah L. Jacobs, December 11, 2013

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