estate planning

3 Great Web Sites for Organizing Estate-Planning Documents

Storing important papers in one place online can make life easier for loved ones during a difficult time.

Web sites that organize and store all of your important documents in one place are the latest in just-in-case insurance. If you become disabled or die, loved ones are just a click away from the financial and estate-plan information they need.

Of course, you can store your paper documents in boxes, file cabinets and safe deposit boxes -- and hope family members can sort everything out during a crisis. These Web sites can make life for your loved ones easier. Depending on the site, you can collect and upload wills, deeds, health care directives and powers of attorney. You also can store passwords, financial-account information and the names of your advisers. And you can leave instructions for your funeral.

All of these sites are encrypted for safety. You name two or three people who have full or partial access to information. You can provide full access to a spouse, let's say, while limiting an adult child's access to certain sections. And you can specify under what conditions someone gets your information -- such as after you die or become incapacitated.

Estate Map (www.estatemap.com). Joe Henderson, a Minneapolis estate lawyer, knows from experience that people are "leaving all sorts of assets on the table" after they die. Bank accounts and property in safe deposit boxes often go unclaimed because heirs don't know about them.

Henderson, who created Estate Map in 2014, says many people don't think about disability or who will get access to their information when they're incapacitated. Rather, people often keep critical documents "in a desk drawer, hoping the right person finds it at the right time," he says.

His Web site divides the data into three categories: information on assets, the estate, and personal health and life. Estate Map costs $96 the first year and $24 a year to renew.

Everplans (www.everplans.com). Co-founder Abby Schneiderman says she doesn't think of the site as a "platform before you die, but a place to organize all details of your life when you are living." That could include informing people where to find an extra set of keys.

You first take a short, personal assessment, including your marital status, ages of children, and whether you have a will and health care directives. Then you receive customized recommendations on what to tackle first. Everplans provides links to sites where you can download legal and health forms from your state.

There's space to write your own obituary and to upload a photo for your obit. And you can leave a letter to your family or instructions about possessions.

Launched in March 2014, the site offers both a free version and a premium version for $75 a year. With the free model, you can't upload documents but you can read 2,000 articles on estate and end-of-life planning. A premium user gets access to live chat support.

The Torch (www.thetorch.com). Those skittish about putting sensitive documents online can use The Torch. This site doesn't ask for personal information, such as account numbers. Instead, it allows at least two people you've designated to know what documents you have and where to find them.

Lenore Vassil, a former corporate technology executive, founded the company in 2012. In her research, Vassil learned that people are often reluctant to put a lot of personal information online. "My sister doesn't need to see a copy of my will, she just needs to know I have it," she says.

The Pro or Lifetime version ($24 a year, or a one-time charge of $144) allows you to upload the location of your Social Security card, birth certificate, safe deposit box and other information. You can create virtual notebooks on a number of topics, including what a loved one will need to know about your car, real estate, pet and people in your life.

A free version provides basic information, such as whether you have a retirement account or insurance. If you don't have these assets, your family won't go scrambling to find them.

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