Sara Zeff Geber, Contributor
Oct. 29, 2020
The pandemic has shone a light on the need for families and older individuals to ramp up their game in preparing for the unexpected.
One of the ways we should all be doing that is by locating and reviewing our estate documents and securing them in the safest place possible. Adults of any age should have an advance directive, and for anyone over 50, it’s also important to have a will, a trust (if warranted), and to assign a power of attorney (POA) for finances and health care decisions.
Most older adults I talk to have done at least some of the above, but often they haven’t looked at the documents for over a decade and some tell me they don’t even know where they are! That can be a problem for a variety of reasons. Certainly, the most urgent task in this area is to locate, review and update those documents. The attorney you worked with will have copies of your documents if you can’t find them; by law they have to keep them on file. Look them over and ask yourself if what you decided those many years ago holds true for you and whether the people you named in your POAs are still your choice today.
Once you are satisfied with your updated choices, the best way to store them and share them with the people in your life who will one day need access to them is too keep them in well-protected storage in the cloud. Of course, you can also keep paper versions as well, if you like, but it makes no sense today to have that be your only repository of these important documents.
There are a number of options for securing your documents electronically. Probably the easiest and least expensive is a program like Dropbox Basic. The free account provides up to 2GB of storage, which is enough for storing most personal documents, and a limited number of photos. With Dropbox Basic you can access your files from multiple devices anytime, anywhere, and you can sign in to dropbox.com to access everything you’ve stored on Dropbox from any browser on any computer. Dropbox has a desktop app and a mobile app and it can be used on both Windows and Mac platforms. If you find you like Dropbox and want more space, you can always upgrade to a paid plan. The paid plans start at $9.99 per month and give you considerably more storage and options. Other options for pure cloud storage would be Google Drive, Box, OneDrive and a few others.
Cloud storage programs are excellent at protecting your documents from harm and making them accessible to you from anywhere, but for sharing purposes they are only as good as your ability to communicate to your loved ones and agents who will need access to your documents in the event you are incapacitated. For many people, a better option might be a platform that is designed especially for storing and sharing estate documents.
If you have worked with an estate attorney in the last five years, you may have been offered the opportunity to use LegalVault, a service sold exclusively to estate planning firms and their clients. Many law firms of all sizes subscribe to LegalVault so they can upload their clients’ legal documents for easy access by the firm and by the client. The client gets an emergency access wallet card with basic emergency contact information. Online, the client can then add their own important documents like birth certificates, insurance policies, travel documents, etc. for access anywhere.
Another recently-launched program, accessible to anyone, is Pillar, which tags itself as a family-first digital platform for storing legal, medical, and financial documents. In addition to estate docs, this might include birth certificates, passport images, diplomas, and other one-of-a-kind, personal documents. Pillar also offers a secure, online dashboard on which you can collaborate with trusted family members. This is especially important when caregiving becomes complex and multiple people get involved or when family is widely spread out geographically. Along with a dashboard for cataloging and organizing, Pillar offers tools such as a step-by-step guide on what to do as family members age, fraud monitoring, and a library of resources for learning more about caregiving and what to do in emergencies. If the opportunity to organize and store all your vital documents in one secure place, with access for those you trust, is appealing to you, Pillar may be the answer. Their subscription plans start at $9.99 per month.
Another consideration for the digital age in which we now live is how we are going to pass along our digital assets when we die. In today’s world, it’s critical to appoint someone you trust to be your “agent” for your digital life and your executor for your digital estate. This person will need access to your passwords. Your estate documents should include language giving your chosen person authority to access your accounts and also to use, control, or deactivate these accounts and any digital devices.
The days of keeping documents in a big binder or in a filing cabinet are definitely behind us. Life is just too complicated for that anymore!
By Sara Zeff Geber, Contributor
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