- Fewer than half of Americans have a formal plan for what happens to their assets when they die.
- While that has stayed consistent in the past few decades, the list of what they potentially own has grown more complicated.
- From digital assets to financial accounts to sentimental items, here's what to think about to make sure your loved ones have access to everything they need when you pass away.
If you're like most Americans, you do not have a formal plan for what will happen to your assets when you die.
Just 46% of Americans have made provisions for how their money and estate should be handled, a 2021 Gallup poll found.
Those results have been more or less consistent since 1990.
But even as people's reluctance to plan for their deaths has stayed the same over the past few decades, the assets they own have likely become more complicated.
From airline rewards and credit card points to social media accounts and cryptocurrencies, the checklist of assets to plan for has grown longer.
While your written plan — if you have one — should cover big things, like your home and retirement savings, you may have other belongings that have been overlooked.
"It's a good idea to think about everything that you might, or others you love might, consider valuable," said Abby Schneiderman, co-founder and co-CEO of Everplans, which helps people create accounts to store their wills, passwords and funeral wishes.
"Take an inventory of what those things are and then think about who you might want to get those things in the event that something happens to you," Schneiderman said.
Your digital assets may run the gamut from hardware and software to photos or videos.
To make sure those assets are accessible in an emergency, you should be sharing the unlock code for both your phone and your computer with someone in your life, Schneiderman recommended.
In addition, you should be putting all of your online passwords in a secure password manager and making sure someone has access to that information, too.
"If not, you can get completely locked out of people's worlds today," Schneiderman said.
In addition to granting access to social media accounts, make a plan for how you want those to continue after your death, if at all.
With Facebook, for example, you can tell the company who you would want to maintain your account after you pass away, said certified financial planner Carolyn McClanahan, director of financial planning at Life Planning Partners in Jacksonville, Florida.
With other social media companies, it may not be so easy, McClanahan said. Moreover, it's important to specify whether you want the account to be shuttered or continue on.
This can be especially complicated for social media or other websites that generate income. Do you want the business to shut down, or is there someone else to pass it on to?
"You really have to do some thoughtful planning," McClanahan said. "That's a financial asset, not just a digital asset."
Naming a digital executor who can help carry out your wishes can make the process of settling your digital estate smoother, Schneiderman noted.
In most states, this is not a legally binding designation, as an executor is with a will, she noted. Yet that person can still help the executor carry out your wishes.
If you do not provide access to online financial assets, there is a risk that they could be lost for good.
This is especially true of cryptocurrency assets, McClanahan noted.
"If you're gone and nobody knows how to access it, that is gone forever," she said.
Keeping a detailed list of your online financial accounts, as well as passwords, through a secure password manager can help ensure none of those assets are overlooked.
It's also important to think about the perks some of those accounts may provide, from airline points to credit card rewards.
Some points may still be able to be redeemed by a spouse. But it may not be possible to transfer them to friends or family, McClanahan said.
"People accumulate these big accounts," McClanahan said. "Don't do that, because it's really going to hamstring your family."
While you cannot leave assets directly to an animal, you can make plans for the care of any pets that you may have.
That includes naming a caretaker, as well as any money that should be given to them to provide for the care of that animal, Schneiderman said.
Some things you may want to pass down may have more emotional than financial value.
For Schneiderman, that includes a cookie recipe her grandmother taught her that has been in the family for generations.
For others, it could be an important piece of jewelry, like a grandparents' wedding ring.
Identifying who gets those items while you're still living can help prevent family disputes once you're gone. McClanahan said she advises clients to let friends and family select the items they would eventually want ahead of time.
She also has clients write down their wishes for their funeral arrangements, which can help reduce the amount of decisions their grieving families have to make.
"Wills cover the basics, but they don't cover the practical aspects of what happens when somebody dies," McClanahan said.