Canadians encouraged to plan for online estates

A new financial report is encouraging people to consider online property, including social media accounts, when planning a will.

Canadian consumers are being encouraged to consider their online property, including social media accounts, when planning a will.

A new report released earlier this week by the BMO Retirement Institute raises concerns about managing digital estates.

"Things like online bank accounts, electronic statements, online investment accounts as well. There's also social media accounts such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter," said Marlena Pospiech, a senior manager at the institute and co-author of the report.

Pospiech said making a plan for online assets before death is something most people don't think of. It can leave a daunting digital mess for loved ones and executors of wills, she said.

"It's the issue around knowing about these items, number one. Number two, having the names of these accounts to access them and the passwords," said Pospiech.

"At the end of the day, it's your legal advisor who can provide the advice on how to incorporate that into the estate plan."

Without access to online estates, Pospiech said there's potential for bills to go unpaid, bank fees to accumulate and for online businesses to unravel.

Issues of privacy and respect can also arise when social media accounts stay open after someone dies.

Jessica Lyle, a will and estate planner with the law firm McInnes Cooper in Halifax, said the first step is figuring out any existing internet connections.

"Is it your online banking profile, are we talking about the loyalty programs, are we talking about some virtual identity that you have for some of those internet games that are out there?" she said.

"All of those are an internet profile that your executor — the person who looks after your estate upon your passing — would have to turn their minds to."

Lyle said she also cautions her clients against revealing too much too soon, because sharing banking information could be seen as a breach of privacy agreements with banks and other financial institutions.

"You want to identify the information, make sure that somebody can find it if the need arises," she said.

"But put it in your safe deposit box or put it somewhere that the executor will know to go to, but doesn't have ready access to it during your lifetime."