Turn the Retirement Conversation to Boomers’ Personal Concerns

Boomers mostly ignore intangible digital assets when planning retirement, a report shows.  

Online presence and activity figure little in Baby Boomers’ retirement plans, according to research from the Bank of Montreal (BMO) Retirement Institute.

Nearly all North Americans (99%) reported using at least one personal online tool, and 85% said they use at least one financial online tool. From PayPal to Facebook to accounts at Amazon, eBay and other online retailers, almost everyone has a digital presence, according to “Estate Planning in the 21st Century: New Considerations in a Changing Society.”

“When we think of estate planning, it’s often focused around the more traditional aspects, such as leaving money for the children or to charities,” said Tina Di Vito, head of the BMO Retirement Institute. “However, we need to start incorporating emerging trends, such as advancements in technology.”

Boomers have embraced technology and are going online in ever-increasing numbers. User-friendly features such as larger screens on smartphones and easily enlarged small text on multitouch tablets have enhanced Boomers’ ability to join the wired world.

One significant difference between wired Boomers and their tech-savvy younger counterparts is their bank balances. Older Boomers (age 55 to 66) are the largest group of online spenders, and they spend more money on technology than any other demographic.

The surge in older consumers who have a personal, professional or financial presence online and the scale of their involvement have created millions of intangible digital assets, from social media to online stock trading.



By and large, more than half of survey respondents with digital property said they believe it is very important or somewhat important to put contingencies in place for their personal and financial digital assets, yet the majority (57%) said they had made no provision in their estate planning to address passwords and access to financial accounts or social networks. The most common answer (50%) was “I didn’t think of it.” Slightly more than a third of respondents (37%) said they didn’t think it was necessary. Just 8% said their legal professional didn’t bring up the subject.

People may be unaware of the consequences for not making provisions. A spouse or heirs may not have access to the passwords for online bank and investment accounts. In case of incapacity, they may not even know of the existence of stock options that are about to expire.

It’s not just the financial value of digital assets that are at stake. Such assets (photo collections or extensive music files) often have emotional value and risk being lost if they are overlooked in the estate planning process. Without the appropriate provisions, many e-mail providers will deny family members access to the account of the deceased because of nontransferable clauses in the terms of service. Privacy and respect can be compromised. In the case of LinkedIn, unless the account is frozen, friends and colleagues will continue to receive recommendations for connections after the individual is gone.

Digital assets and the notion of leaving a digital legacy is a new frontier. Because of the inherently intangibility of these assets, there is still little precedent in the field of digital estate planning. Nevertheless, the importance of creating a digital estate plan is sure to increase as the adoption rate of emerging technologies continues to soar.

BMO Retirement Institute’s North American survey was conducted online by Harris Decima from February 24 to February 28, 2012. Respondents were 2,009 North Americans (1,003 Americans and 1,006 Canadians), age 45 and up.

The full report is available here.