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You Should Use Your Client's Digital Accounts for Estate Administration

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A lot of professional fiduciaries continue to use outdated tools like probate & accounting software from the 90s to handle the bulk of their administration work. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. However, the list of tasks required to close an estate is getting more complicated as digital assets and accounts need to be dealt with. This is especially true for professional fiduciaries who need to close their client’s accounts, comply with jurisdictional requirements, and meticulously document their process. These new requirements require that new tools be added to fiduciaries’ tool kits. This post will explore the complications that arise for fiduciaries when they have to deal with a decedent’s digital life.
A significant number of countries around the world have adopted laws and regulations that recognize and enforce electronic signatures. Pair this with services like DocuSign and Adobe Acrobat Sign and you’ve got tons of important documents that live online exclusively. Email accounts house bank statements and receipts, mobile phones contain thousands of pictures, and exclusively digital assets like cryptocurrencies and domain names are increasing in popularity. Unfortunately, their access must be planned before the client passes or they will likely remain inaccessible, potentially removing large portions of an estate’s value. An unprepared fiduciary will find themselves scrambling, reaching out to the support staff at any number of accounts, trying to retrieve data and/or close the account. Without preparation, data requests will almost always be refused. Account closures will usually be approved after documentation is submitted. Doing this for every account held by the decedent is basically impossible. Most fiduciaries won’t even know which services their client made accounts with, as this information is scattered across their potentially various locked email accounts.
Ensuring you can access a client’s email(s) once they pass will greatly reduce administrative headaches. People use their emails as admin tools for their day-to-day lives, often piling up mountains of data that is useful in getting an estate settled. However, accessing a decedent’s email account can be deceptively hard. You may not have the authority to login to their account, even if they left behind their credentials, depending on your jurisdiction. Even if you can, multi-factor authentication and other device detection mechanisms could lock the account. Using a court order to get access to an email account’s contents is unlikely to work, but if it does, you will receive a folder of raw data that you will need to parse, rather than getting access to the email interfaces we are all accustomed to. Finally, the decedent has no privacy when providing access to an email account, as they cannot choose what an administrator can or cannot see.
Most people have more than one email account, and attached to that email they have a myriad of important documents that a fiduciary will likely need. Bequest allows you to compliantly gain access to emails without requiring credentials, court orders, or any notification to the custodian. On top of this, Bequest will allow the original account owner to set up granular filtering in order to keep personal information private or segregate data. Through Bequest’s fiduciary interface, you can query the email. For example, a query can be made for accounts tied to the email address, which are then listed alongside actions like ‘Request Account Closure.’ Emails are incredibly powerful tools for inventory and administration, and Bequest is the first compliant provider of sophisticated email administration.
The decedent’s beneficiaries may also ask about things like photos or cryptocurrencies. If these have not been planned for, they will not be recoverable. However, as a professional fiduciary, the duty to exhaust all possible avenues of access is excessive in the digital world. Domain names, gambling accounts, loyalty points, neo-bank accounts, and the like will all need to be searched for, usually manually, by sending notices to custodians who take a long time to reply and sometimes don’t even bother to. The laundry list of tasks left to fiduciaries is growing rapidly. If you are a named Executor, Power of Attorney, Trustee, etc. consider booking a demo with Bequest and see how you can compliantly administer an estate in less time and without frustration.

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