In this digital age, if you die or become incapacitated, your executor and loved ones will need access to your online accounts. If someone you trust doesn't know your passwords or usernames, who will take care of your bank accounts, automatic payment plans, investment information, electronic mortgage statements, and credit card bills? Who will monitor your email? Your Facebook page?
If your spouse, or whomever you want to have access to these accounts, can't get in, it could take a court order just to find out something as simple as how much money is in your checking account. (The only exception is Oklahoma, which has a law giving the executor the right to control any email or social networking accounts of the deceased person.) Going to court is expensive and time consuming; fortunately, it's also completely avoidable. You just need a way to arrange for the information to get to someone you trust if it's ever needed. Read on to learn how. (For more tips on getting organized in case something happens to you, check out Nolo's articles on Getting Your Affairs in Order.)
What Not to Do
Don't put private information like usernames and passwords in your will -- a will becomes a public document after your death, when it's filed with the local probate court. (Even if your estate doesn't actually go through probate court proceedings, the law requires that the will be filed.) If you have a living trust, you could include your passwords in the trust document -- but given how often one's personal list of online accounts and their related passwords change, that's probably not optimal either.
The Best Plan: Create a List
The best plan is probably the simplest. Just make a list of your user names, passwords, PINs, and related accounts, and then make sure the right person knows how to get access to it. The hard parts are remembering all the passwords you've accumulated, and keeping the list up to date.
Be sure to include information on how to access:
- Internet service providers or Web hosting services
- email accounts (email providers all have their own rules about access after a death; some allow next of kin access, some won't give access to anyone)
- photo storage sites
- social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn
- online subscriptions (for example, magazine subscriptions that renew automatically or subscriptions to sports websites)
- financial sites (banks and brokerages) where you have money saved or invested
- mortgage providers
- college savings and retirement plans
- companies (such as banks or utilities) where you have set up automatic bill-paying
- software applications (for example, tax return or legal document preparation programs or websites), and
- cell phones.
More Help Getting Organized
To make sure your executor or loved ones can access other secured or protected property, such as safe deposit boxes and home alarms, read Nolo's article Help Your Executor: Secured Places and Passwords.
To help you organize your important information, you can turn to Nolo's Get It Together: Organize Your Records So Your Family Won't Have To, by Melanie Cullen with Shae Irving. This workbook with CD-ROM provides a complete system for documenting information for your executor and other loved ones.