In this digital age, if you die or become incapacitated, your executor and loved ones will need access to your online accounts. If the person you trust to manage your affairs or wrap things up 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 be able to monitor your emails for any important notifications? Who will be able to make a social media post on your behalf to notify your friends and contacts?
If your spouse, or whomever you want to have access to these accounts, can't get in, they might need to get a court order just to do something as simple as logging into an account you use every day. 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. Read on to learn how.
Don't ever put private information like usernames and passwords in your will. Why? 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.)
A living trust, unlike a will, doesn't need to be filed with the probate court. However, it's still not a great place to include your usernames and passwords. Given how often one's usernames and passwords change, chances are that by the time your loved one needs to access your accounts, many of your passwords would be out of date if they lived in a trust document.
Instead, just make a list of your usernames, passwords, PINs, and related accounts, and then make sure the right person knows how to get access to it.
You could include this list in a letter to your loved ones (in a document separate from your will) or in a spreadsheet. Or if you use a password manager (such as LastPass, 1Password, or Bitwarden), you can arrange for your executor or loved one to have the single master password that unlocks the ability to see all of your stored passwords.
However you keep an inventory of your login information, make sure to keep the passwords up to date as you change them over the course of your life.
In your letter, spreadsheet, or password manager, be sure to include information on how to access:
In addition to giving your executor the actual login information to your accounts, it's best also to give them the legal authority to access all of your digital assets. This can help stave off problems, or help your executor get access if you forgot to include an account in your inventory or forgot to update a password. You can grant the legal authority to manage your digital assets by explicitly stating in your will or living trust that your executor has this power. (See A Plan for Your Digital Assets.) In addition, if a particular account (such as your Facebook or Apple account) offers the option, you may want to utilize that particular account's legacy contact tool.
To make a will or living trust using a guided program online or on your desktop, try Nolo's WillMaker & Trust. You can also use WillMaker to create a document or letter that lists your usernames and passwords.
To make sure your executor or loved ones can access other (non-digital) secured or protected property, such as safe deposit boxes and home alarms, see Help Your Executor: Secured Places and Passwords. And for more tips on getting organized in case something happens to you, check out Nolo's articles on Getting Your Affairs in Order.
To help you organize your important information, you can also turn to Nolo's Get It Together: Organize Your Records So Your Family Won't Have To, by Melanie Cullen. This book provides a complete system for documenting information for your executor and other loved ones.