Book Review: Digital Executor: Unraveling the New Path for Estate Planning by Sharon Hartung TEP
The author intends this book as a primer for understanding a client’s personal use of digital assets in the context of estate management. It examines the practical aspects and differences between different digital asset classes. Digital Executor® is available on Amazon Globally.
Sharon Hartung’s work reflects the fact that to-day’s executor is a digital executor and as such must be able to advise on a client’s digital estate. As the recent STEP investigation into Digital Assets revealed a lack of knowledge about how to deal with the digital estate, practitioners need to respond to it’s Call to Action and educate themselves. This book is one way to start this process. After all practitioners will not wish to be found wanting when beneficiaries hold them to account.
The book explores four avenues:
- The context of where technology fits in a client’s estate, an adviser’s profession and organisational practices
- The fundamental reasons why the digital topic is critical to advisers.
- A deep dive into various digital assets within a client’s portfolio, introducing an adviser to the technical management and user aspects of the topic – it forms the bulk of the book
- The provision of a context of where digital assets sit in the broader digital transformation underway in the estate industry, and the impact that this is likely to have on individual businesses serving clients and their estate fiduciary and advisers.
This exploration takes place over seven chapters and 175 pages.
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Structure & Layout
The book is not that easy to navigate as the copy I have seen simply has seven chapters and within each chapter there are sub-headings but they are not numbered and as yet there appears to be no index.
Chapter 1 sets out the point that to be able to continue to advise as an estate planner it is necessary to understand the technology behind digital assets and the operational terms of business to be able to help clients make decisions with what happens to their online assets just as we advise them about what to do with physical assets.
Chapter 2 argues that estate planners need to learn from the financial and banking sector about how quickly they have had to change in the pandemic to provide what customers want in terms of mobile banking and how digital transformation of estate planning is underway.
For example, gone are the days when you could simply collect all the deceased’s papers and from that build their assets and liabilities schedule. Now with paperless accounts and online only operations the key barrier will be finding and accessing accounts.
Chapter 3 concerns definition – recognising what are digital assets. It includes 10 key questions to ask clients about e-mail for estate planning discovery; guidance on estate planning processes for digital assets; some tips for engaging clients in discussion about how they use different technology platforms and what pre-death planning is available on them.
Chapter 4 poses three key questions about digital assets which advisers should ask; lists what you should review with the client to better protect their privacy in life and on death; recommends starting a digital conversation by asking a client about their favourite loyalty schemes & gift certificates.
Chapter 5 provides 5 key steps for dealing with digital assets in estate planning.
Chapter 6 provides 5 things about the future of estate planning including the need to be able to demonstrate to families needing an estate administered that your firm has tools and services which will capture and integrate the digital estate with the estate administration.
Chapter 7 predicts that the electronic Will is coming and will change everything.
There are lists of questions, checklists or ideas in most of the chapters.
Clarity & readability
The book makes a strong case for estate planning practitioners to be proactive in engaging with clients over their digital estate. It emphasises the need for estate planners to understand the different technologies and to be aware of the limitations of the law. The point is well made that the tools which prevent cybercrime are also barriers to fiduciaries trying to wind up the digital estate.
The author repeatedly makes the point that “with technology being the new player at the client’s estate planning table, estate advisors must be educated, motivated and prepared, adapting policies and processes for operating in the digital world.”
Relevance to practitioners
This book is relevant to those who write Wills, plan for succession to a person’s estate and undertake estate administration. It will provoke serious thought about estate planning’s current shortcomings to address digital assets; and, for a few, motivate entrepreneurial activity to become a market leader in all things digital.
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