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Tech companies tackle estate planning tools

The practice of estate planning is as old as civilization itself and the issue of what one leaves behind and to whom remains as relevant and complicated as ever. Laws in this area have evolved somewhat with the changing times but the basic issues remain the same – how to organize one’s affairs so that loved ones can benefit from remaining assets with as little difficulty as possible.

This is an area where technology is beginning to play a larger role, from the ability to memorialize and shut off a Facebook account, to sophisticated email services that automatically close an account or send off a posthumous note on the user’s behalf. Now some technology companies are offering even more extensive services, such as digital property storage or even creating a power of attorney document.

However, some of these services should likely come with a buyer-beware disclaimer, since there are many nuances that can impact one’s estate plan that the software might not be able to pick up on, such as how to best allocate assets to minimize tax liability.

In addition, there could be some underlying issues with enforceability with these new technologies, since they are largely untested and have not made their way through the court systems in most states yet. Remember – executing a will is a specific legal process that must be done correctly with two witnesses present in order to be valid.

There may also be accessibility issues, particularly for young people who utilize this type of service. If a 30-year-old uses this type of service and lives into their 80s, technology will have changed a tremendous amount in the intervening 50 years, so it is difficult to know whether this information will be accessible or relevant anymore. Say what you will about paper and ink, but that technology has been around more than 2000 years, reliably passing along information from one generation to the next.

Source: New York Times, “Navigating the Logistics of Death Ahead of Time,” March 28, 2014. 

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