I recently traveled abroad and while I was preparing for the trip, I tried to anticipate the problems that travelers might encounter. Properly preparing for a trip means planning for contingencies and emergencies. We made sure to double and triple check that we had the necessary clothing, our passports, voltage converters, cash and quite a few other essentials that make life on the road more palatable. We made sure that we had all the airline and travel destination information, transfer information, and hotel addresses easily accessible. We were prepared to encounter all manner of unexpected pitfalls because of our preparation efforts. And while I was in the mode of preparing for possible travel misfortune, I also took the time to re-confirm that our financial affairs were in order.
Making sure that financial affairs are in order means being prepared for a worst-case scenario to occur at any time. Worst case in my mind means either death or severe incapacity. I want to ensure that in such a case, my financial affairs can be settled and administered as quickly and easily as possible to minimize disruption to family and business associates. That can only be accomplished by thoughtful planning.
Months before the departure date for our trip, we engaged a travel professional to assist with the planning so that we did not overlook any important travel details and could benefit from the agent’s experience and knowledge. Similarly, with our estate planning, we have engaged professionals with the appropriate expertise to make sure that documents are in place to assure that our needs and wishes are properly carried out when we are unable to manage our own affairs.
When taking off on an extended trip, it is a good idea to make sure that a family member knows your itinerary in the event an emergency arises. Similarly, it is also a good idea for family members to know that you have your estate plans in place, where the plans are located, and who to contact at the appropriate time. Everyone should have at least three valid legal documents: a Will, a financial power of attorney, and a health care directive. These are the instruments through which the plans can be implemented and financial affairs administered.
When traveling abroad, I like to purchase cash in advance even though I can obtain cash in ATMs after I arrive at my destination. Having cash on hand eliminates one possible concern if my credit or debit card is lost or compromised. At my death or disability, I want to make sure that someone can access my checking account if necessary. Since I do all my banking electronically, this means ensuring that a trusted person will have access to my login credentials.
Just as I have transitioned my banking activities to the internet, I have also accumulated quite a few other “digital assets” that may need to be accessed in the event I am not able to do so myself. Digital assets have been defined as “just about anything and everything that is created, communicated, sent, received, or stored by electronic means.” Digital assets may have no financial value, but they are likely portals to accessing accounts with financial value like the credentials to log into a bank or brokerage account. Digital assets may also include email accounts, social media accounts, photo and video libraries, and other digitally stored media.
For most of us, we have probably not considered the importance of these digital assets and how family members or advisors may be able to access them if we are unable to do so ourselves. I addressed this issue several years ago by starting to use a password manager to store personal information and access information to all my digital assets. In the event of my death or disability, it will be relatively easy for my appointed representative to access all my digital assets.
Thoughtful planning for all the trip’s details helps to ensure the trip can be as enjoyable as possible and that any travel mishaps can be quickly overcome. Our trip through life should be approached in a similar manner. Making sure that your financial affairs are in proper order and your digital assets easily accessible to the necessary people will make for a smooth transition for you and your beneficiaries. Not having financial affairs in order is irresponsible and costly. Just ask the children of the late Aretha Franklin who left an $80 million estate without benefit of a Will.
This article does not represent a specific investment recommendation. No client or prospective client should assume that the above information serves as the receipt of, or a substitute for, personalized individual advice from The Fiduciary Group which can only be provided through a formal advisory relationship. Clients of the firm who have specific questions should contact their The Fiduciary Group advisor. All other inquiries, including a potential advisory relationship with The Fiduciary Group, can be directed here.