In an increasingly digital world, experts advise that your legacy should include your passwords, not just to your bank and financial accounts, but to Facebook, your website, frequent flier miles or anything else that might have value to your loved ones.
When contemplating wills and estates, it’s no longer enough to leave behind information about the location of your safe-deposit box or the name of your lawyer. In this increasingly digital world, what’s even more important is letting your next of kin know the user names and passwords to your online accounts.
Don’t just provide such information about your financial accounts, but to all crucial Internet sites—that is, places where you have the ability to access or post information. After all, many of us increasingly spend much of our lives online. All that work you did tracing your family’s history, which now resides on a genealogy website, could be lost, as well as the family photos you saved online in a cloud.
Household bills could go unpaid if the co-owner doesn’t know the password to the local utility’s site, or credit card bills could pile up. Just as crucial, automatically paid accounts may continue making payments unnecessarily because loved ones don’t have online access to your bank account. Your spouse or children might be able to use your frequent-purchaser rewards points—if they knew the websites, user names and passwords.
If something were to happen to you, your descendants may want access to your personal or professional websites and blogs. Loved ones may want to contact friends or associates on social media sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+ and Twitter.
Where to Keep Your Passwords
What’s the best way of ensuring your survivors will be able to access your accounts and websites? There’s the old-fashioned way of writing them down—either keeping them on a piece of paper or creating an online document. Make sure your executor knows the location of your password storage system, whether in a file cabinet or the hard drive on your computer. Some lawyers recommend including instructions about accounts and passwords in your will.
Most web browsers will give you the option to save online passwords. For example, to see which passwords Safari has compiled, go to Safari’s Preferences and then click on Passwords. You’ll see a list of websites along with your corresponding usernames and passwords. To see the password, check “show passwords for selected websites.” Firefox and Chrome both have their own password management systems that track saved passwords and corresponding websites. See Firefox’s tutorial and Google’s instructions. Internet Explorer does not have a directly accessible password management system (from Gigaom).
Several websites will store your passwords, providing convenience for you and your beneficiaries, because you only need to remember and share one password.
The person you entrust with this information can be a personal representative, the executor you name in your will or a beneficiary. If you use a website that isn’t tailored to after-death situations, you’ll have to provide the executor with the password while you’re alive. Therefore, it’s important to find someone trustworthy who won’t try to cause harm by accessing your personal information before you die.
Password manager sites protect your information with data-encryption tools, and many sites store a limited number of passwords for free. LastPass states that your data is “never shared with LastPass. Your data stays accessible only to you. It works by prompting you to save your logins, generating new passwords.” (Mention of any website in this article should not be construed as an endorsement.)
Other password storage sites (from PC Mag, gigaom and Mocavo) include Dashlane, Passpack.com and PasswordBox. PasswordBox includes a “Legacy Vault to easily pass on your digital asset.” You provide PasswordBox with the name of your trusted beneficiary (and their email address), and when you die, the beneficiary notifies PasswordBox and supplies a death certificate before receiving the digital assets (in the form of passwords).
Similarly, Lifetime Vault provides a “vault key” that you give to your loved ones, which gives them access to your accounts and documents if you become disabled or die.
Social Media Accounts
On Facebook, many people never die. It’s not uncommon to see a reminder to wish someone a happy birthday after they have passed away. Until Facebook is notified of a death, a person’s page will not be deleted, although Facebook will leave the page up as a memorial, if requested.
Social media sites have different rules about how to handle such accounts. Twitter deletes the files of deceased users but will provide a copy of your public tweets to your heirs. Instagram, however, will delete all of your files upon receiving a death notification. Yahoo forbids transferring usernames and passwords, and upon submission of the death certificate, will delete your account. Gmail requires the name of the deceased person, along with email address and death certificate before deciding whether to give the account to the beneficiary.
Posting Your Bequests
Some websites go beyond password management. A few offer more comprehensive services such as storing your estate and legacy plans, insurance information, wills, POAs, living wills and funeral instructions.
BestBequest.com, for example, has a LegacyVault that “helps you preserve and protect your will, insurance policies, account passwords, financial investments, keepsake photos and more with our patent-pending security processes and 256-bit AES encryption. Create private videos to provide clear and specific instructions for each family member.”
A few others are Afternote, AfterSteps, Estate Map, Eterniam, Everplans, PartingWishes, Perpetu and USLegalWills.com/LegalWills.co.uk/LegalWills.ca. One site, WebCease, will even help executors, trustees and administrators find online accounts that are part of a deceased person’s digital assets.
If you would rather not store your information on the Internet, you can use a desktop program like Javont Vault. This Windows-based program lets you catalog everything—possessions, safe-deposit box information, passwords and even memberships—in one place on your computer.
For those who have a longer vision, Chronicle of Life promises to keep your data for all eternity after you pay a one-time sum. If you have an even greater vision, LifeNaut allows you to create interactive avatars, upload content and even store a DNA sample so that you can “create a free back-up of [your] mind and genetic code.”
“Assuming that revival could take as long as a hundred or hundreds of years to become feasible, it would not be reasonable to expect that one can leave records and material with friends or relatives and expect them to be continually guarded, maintained, and passed on through future generations,” states the website.
“Assets online? Plan your estate for the digital age,” creditcards.com
“Online accounts after death: Remember digital property when listing assets,” August 26, 2012, Chicago Tribune
“Protect online assets with a digital estate plan,” May 2014, CNBC
“For the afterlife, how to pass passwords onto heirs,” March 29, 2014, Oregon Live
“Digital Death and Afterlife Online Services List,” The Digital Beyond http://www.thedigitalbeyond.com/online-services-list/
“You shall not pass! Take control of your passwords in the new year,” Jan. 7, 2014, Gigaom
“Passing on Passwords,” Your Security Resource
“Passing On Your Passwords,” March 28, 2014, http://philadelphia.cbslocal.com/2014/03/28/passing-on-your-passwords">CBS Philly
“Pass On Your Passwords,” March 31, 2014, Movaco
“Get Organized: Passing on Your Passwords,” October 8, 2012, PC Magazine
Passing on Your Passwords as Part of Your Estate was featured in the August 2014 Senior Spirit newsletter.
Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors www.csa.us.