The essentials of online estate planning

Photo courtesy Flickr user iowa_spirit_walker

(MoneyWatch) Our online personas are certainly convenient -- these days, we do a vast amount of online commerce and routinely pay most of our bills electronically. Online bill payment has made keeping up with the car, mortgage and utility payments something that now takes essentially no time out of our days.

But what if something unexpected happens to you? When you die, your online activities continue on autopilot, and that can have serious implications for your family's bank account. Do you have a plan to manage your online activities after you're gone?

Hillel Presser, author of "Financial Self-Defense," argues that it's important to take steps to ensure someone is at the wheel when you can no longer control your online activities. "It's important to make sure your online bank and shopping accounts, even your social media, can be closed out, or that your loved ones are authorized to access them," he says.

There are many different aspects to your online existence you should take stock of. Presser isn't just talking about your bank account and automatic payments. There's also social media (which will live on in indefinitely unless someone does something), photos, email, medical records and more. If you're not proactive, it's likely that no one else will be able to access those accounts -- by design, many sites and services do not allow anyone but the owner to interact with the data.

So what should you do? According to Presser, here are the most important things you should do to ensure your loved ones can access your online accounts:

Designate a digital executor. This can be the same person who is the traditional executor for your estate.

Take stock. Create a list of all of your accounts, sites and services. Have an email folder or some other mechanism that lists all of these accounts so your executor knows what is out there and how to get to it.

Make sure that you provide your executor with all of your usernames and passwords, as well as security answers so they can gain access.

Make sure you update your passwords and other account information, as they change, so that a trusted person has the most updated information.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user iowa_spirit_walker

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