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Hackers' Move into Declaration of Death Poses Threat to Estate Plans

Declaring individuals dead has been made a digital, online task, like so many other time consuming yet important tasks. But hackers declaring a person officially deceased can wreak havoc on those who are not dead - and their estate plans.

When 200 live patients in an Australian hospital were suddenly and mysteriously declared dead last year, it became clear that while these patients were alive and well, the hospital's computer system had a serious security problem. Add the process of officially declaring a person deceased to the list of vulnerabilities facing individuals and institutions.

A computer security expert recently gave a presentation at a convention of hackers in Las Vegas titled "I Will Kill You."

His research revealed that in most places having someone declared dead requires a report from a doctor and a funeral director. Many doctors have not registered with the appropriate agencies so all that a hacker needs to do is co-opt the doctor's identity and register in his or her name.

It is even easier for the hacker to pretend to be a funeral director.

ABC News reported this story in a recent story titled "Def Con: Hackers can virtually kill people, manipulate records, Australian security expert says."

This raises some interesting problems for estates.

Once a person is declared dead that can trigger life insurance payouts, retirement plan handoffs, bank account transfers and more. These are often important pieces of an estate plan.

If a hacker has illegally had a person declared dead and managed to have important accounts paid out to him or herself, then the delicate balance of an estate plan can crumble.

Of course, this is not currently a widespread, real world problem.

On the other hand, this is something to keep in mind if you stop receiving account statements. You might want to check and make sure you have not been declared legally dead by a hacker.

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