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Emails are the new shoebox full of letters from grandma

A lot of Minnesota have a shoe box (or hat box, or file folder) full of letters from past generations. These mementos of personal correspondence link us to our relatives who are no longer with us and give us a sense of the family’s history. Today, parents and grandparents are writing fewer long-form letters that are sent in the mail, and keeping up with friends and family is done over email or social networking sites. Some of our correspondence might be as simple as a Facebook “like” or as long as an email updating our friends on some of life’s bigger issues.

This change in communication matters for estate planning purposes because unlike a box of letters, emails are not waiting to be found years later when the family is cleaning out the attic. Strict user agreements and information privacy laws make it very difficult for family members to access electronic correspondence, which means that we must be more proactive in providing that access.

One family has made the news with a seven year court battle to gain access to a deceased family member’s email account, only to have their efforts quashed by a strict user agreement from the email provider, Yahoo!.

These problems can be solved by included access to email and other online accounts as a part of a larger estate plan. For example, making sure that durable power of attorney forms exist and apply to digital assets, so that third party companies have permission to hand over access to information on your behalf.

Source: Forbes, “When Heirs Must Battle For Access to E-mail Accounts,” Deborah L. Jacobs, Dec. 11, 2013.

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