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Safeguarding property in the digital age

Estates Made Easy with Corinne Cantwell Heggie


When mail was mail, Dave was part of the neighborhood. Dave’s uniform met the season, shorts to endure summer and 90,000 layers to battle winter. Dave celebrated our wins and mourned our losses. Dave had the beat on school activities, the monthly bridge games hosted in neighbors’ homes, family trips, and holiday plans.

Dave celebrated the season with the neighborhood at Mrs. Gleason’s annual Christmas open house when Dave retired as our mail carrier, the neighborhood’s pulse collectively skipped a beat. Recently, Dave has been on my mind as Valentine’s Day came and went without my boys bringing home boxes of cards exchanged with classmates and teachers. They are “too old” for such traditions as teenagers. I am a bicentennial baby, not a digital native. In my defense, mail is still mail to me because executors and trustees, those who are managing property, bills, and taxes for someone who no longer is living, drop off boxes of unopened mail at our office. Our spectacular team reviews and organizes statements, letters, tax documents, and forms to help clients close, transfer, and archive decedents’ accounts.


We are charged with opening mail because some people pay all their bills by mail and some people pay some of their bills by mail. The common thread between these digital, hybrid, and paper bill payers is that none of them informed their family or friends about how they paid bills and managed their property. Regardless of which camp you are in, you should identify your property and how you manage it. If you manage property online, make a list of passwords and account numbers and let family number or friend know where you keep the list. If you get hacked or change passwords occasionally, do not forget to update the list. Securely storing passwords online can be made easy with a password manager.

While we are talking about passwords, let’s talk about digital property. Do have pictures on your smartphone, laptop, desktop, or on social media accounts? Your devices, your pictures, and your social media accounts are digital property. For readers with digital wallets, bitcoin, and non-fungible tokens, do not forget to name a beneficiary for these assets to decide who gets the property.


For readers who purchased real estate, formed an LLC or corporation, or signed a deed for estate planning purposes, do not fall victim to the snail mail that looks and sounds official. Ignore mail talking of safety and that encourages you to write a check or go to website to make a secured payment for a “certified copy” of your “legal document.” It is fraud that should be reported to the Illinois Attorney General’s fraud hotline. See illinoisattorneygeneral.gov/about/hotlines.html

Even the most non-techy family, friends, and business partners have some form of password or online property. With this notion ringing in your ears, be it known that digital property is just as important to protect as your real estate and traditional property such as bank accounts and life insurance. Bureaucratic delays and paperwork are guaranteed for an executor and trustee; however, their work can be easier if you can write down the password to remove guesswork later.



Corinne Cantwell Heggie is a principal of the Heggie Wochner Law Firm LLC in Northbrook. Corinne helps people avoid asset loss, court battles and taxes, with wills, trusts and powers of attorney. She lives in Glenview with her husband, who is also her law partner; her family is active in sports, ministries that support women and children in crisis, and Boy Scouts.




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