An interesting article on msnbc.com from a few days ago sheds light on how modern day estate planning probably needs to catch up with the practicalities of modern day life. Specifically, the article's author discusses how, years ago, when an individual died the survivors typically conducted a search of the house, papers, safety deposit box, etc. in order to determine and collect information and records regarding the assets and liabilities of the estate. However, these days much of that type of information is not stored in "hard copy" form but rather on a computer, typically protected by a password and known only to the person who just passed away. One never knows when they will breathe their last breath, of course, and often the decedent never shares their password with another family member, friend, or trusted legal or financial advisor.
As a lawyer who does not engage in estate planning but instead represents clients in estate, trust and probate litigation matters, I believe that the increasing use of digital record keeping is fraught with potential abuse. Specifically, while most fiduciaries are honest and trustworthy, I have worked on many lawsuits in which shady estate and trust administrators are alleged to have destroyed, concealed, or otherwise failed to produce documents to beneficiaries. When such records are never even printed out but rather are kept only in digital form, the beneficiaries' discovery of such matters can seemingly be made even more difficult if not impossible. After all, in some ways it can be easier to manipulate digital data than a hard copy. So, while computers can no doubt increase the efficiency and accuracy of diligent decedents and honest estate and trust administrators, it basically comes down (as it always does) to a universal truth---people who are inclined to cheat can probably find a way to do it.