Opinion: This free and easy iPhone hack could be the most important estate planning move you’ll ever make

Opinion: This free and easy iPhone hack could be the most important estate planning move you’ll ever make

You might think that the most valuable things you have on your iPhone to leave behind after you die are your photos which are (hopefully) backed up in the cloud.

But take two minutes to set up a legacy contact for your mobile device. This free, simple step could make a world of difference to your loved ones, allowing them to follow your financial roadmap should something happen to you.

“It can be some of the most significant estate planning you can do,” says David Jones, head of estate planning at Bailard, a San Francisco-based estate planning firm.

Last year, Apple AAPL,
-1.96%
launched this new legacy contact feature, which allows you to designate a trusted person to access your phone in the event of your death. It was primarily of interest to techies as an iPhone hack, but ended up resonating a lot with estate planning professionals who are always dealing with the new complexities of our digital lives. The data that a legacy contact can access includes photos, contacts, reminders, files, and health data.

The process is as simple as clicking a few buttons in your phone’s settings, under passwords and security, and then printing the code or sending it to the person you chose to store it however you like. Instead of the old process of filing legal documents and waiting for approval, your designee just needs the code that is generated and a copy of a death certificate, and then they can open their phone and see what they see.

alphabet GOOG,
-9.63%
Google has a process that can use with Android phonesthrough your dormant account manager, but it may still require some paperwork, and you can also work through the carrier.

It’s also a good idea to pass on password information for social media accounts like Facebook
GOAL,
-5.59%
and other services, but they won’t have the same impact on estate planning. Since our phones have almost become extensions of our brains, they are essential to unlocking a person’s financial life if they are not around to narrate.

“My whole life is on my phone,” says Andrew Crowell, vice president of wealth management at DA Davidson, an investment bank. “It’s like turning back the clock 30 years and all my vital documents are in a safe deposit box. Someone has to know where the key is.

Your loved ones need you to have a plan

It’s hard to get people to think about estate planningeven as baby boomers are poised to pass on trillions of dollars to the next generation. That paperwork can be complicated and can cost several thousand dollars if you’re setting up a trust of some sort.

DA Davidson found in a recent survey that only 66% of adult Americans did not have an estate plan. A similar two-thirds also lacked a health care power of attorney, which is important if you are incapacitated and need someone to make decisions for you. Of those who did have a plan, only 20% had updated it in the last five years. The most common reason people delayed planning: They didn’t think they had enough money to be worth the hassle.

But even if you don’t have a lot of money, you leave behind a life that someone has to liquidate. A will or trust allows you to leave specific instructions for gifting assets, but there is much more you need to do to sort out the financial life of a deceased person, including filing your latest taxes and managing all of your accounts.

Estate planning often takes care of the big stuff, but it can miss a few things, from minutiae like a forgotten monthly subscription to accounts no one else knew about, like savings bonds or cryptocurrencies.

Having access to a person’s phone is important, especially for those who don’t leave other instructions, but it’s also important for those who do.

“Your will might say something like ‘I leave all my tangible assets to my spouse,’ but that only gives that person the right to take the phone, not anything inside it. You can do the legacy contact for easy access to it,” says Lisa Featherngill, national director of wealth planning for Comerica Bank.

A very unfun treasure hunt.

It’s not easy to go in and navigate someone else’s financial life. especially when you’re doing it in the middle of grief. So think of your loved ones for a second and what mess would you be leaving them with. Don’t you want to make it as easy as possible?

You don’t want them to have to search through baby books in attics for a copy of your birth certificate, or through boxes in a garage for military discharge papers or divorce decrees. They often have to collect mail for a year and expect to receive all the statements they need. The least you can do is leave a trail on your phone of all these things and give your loved ones a starting point.

Featherngill experienced this two years ago when his mother died.

“He had a horrible memory, so we had a lot of his passwords written down,” he says. “But, yes, it was a treasure hunt. It’s not like you’re getting statements from I-bonds, or people with crypto, you wouldn’t know either. I no longer receive statements for almost nothing.

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