Maintaining a Secure List of Online Accounts and Passwords as Part of your Estate Plan

An increasingly important component of estate planning is maintaining a secure list of your passwords to online accounts.  In today’s virtual world, having online access to banking is a great convenience, not only for you, but for whomever might be serving as your fiduciary agent. However, this convenience adds an additional layer of complexity.  If you were to become incapacitated or pass away unexpectedly, who would be able to find and access your online accounts?  

Providing fiduciaries with access to your digital content is an area that has seen much attention over the last ten years.  What is best suited for you will depend on your comfort level, both in terms of content and security.  Some options include furnishing a list to a trusted individual, leaving instructions as to its location, or using a password manager. 

  1. Furnish the List to a Trusted Individual

One option is to provide your list of accounts and passwords to a trusted person. This could be a spouse, child, friend, or fiduciary. In the event of your death or incapacity, having access to a list of your online accounts may not only inform your representative where your assets are held but may also facilitate paying your expenses and administering your estate.  Furthermore, providing access to your computer, phone, email, and social media accounts may assist your fiduciary with managing and ultimately deleting those accounts.   

This option does have a level of risk, however, because you are providing another individual with access to sensitive data.  For this reason, you must be certain that both you and your trusted representative keep the information in a secure location.  In addition, your list may quickly become outdated as you update passwords or acquire new online accounts.  

  1. Provide Instructions as to the Location of the List  

Another option is to keep the list in a secure location and leave instructions so that your trusted fiduciary may find it when needed.  We often recommend storing the document in a fireproof / waterproof safe where you may update your account information as needed.  Generally, storing the list in a safe deposit box is not ideal because your representative may not be able to access it without judicial authorization. 

  1. Use a Password Manager

A password manager is a computer program that stores all your passwords. These programs create a unique password for each of your accounts and store those passwords in an online database. Therefore, you only need one “master” password to access all your other accounts.  Additionally, many password management companies have an emergency access feature that allows you to designate another user who may request access to your passwords under situations such as death or incapacity. Once you create an account, you may provide the “master” password to your representative, leave him or her instructions as to its location, or use the emergency access feature.   

Password managers provide the benefit of storing your online passwords in one location and providing protection from identity theft.  Although password managers are generally considered secure, they are not without risk, as the database stores all of your information in an online location.  

  • What Your List Should Include

If you decide to make a list, the information to include is specific to your situation and comfort level.  However, generally, you should include login details for all of your accounts.  The list might include: 

  • Password or PIN for your computer;
  • Password or PIN for your phone;
  • Email accounts and login details;
  • Banking accounts and login details;
  • Utility accounts and login details;
  • Bill pay accounts and login details; 
  • Social media accounts and login details; and
  • Location and access information for physical items (safe deposit boxes, safes, storage units, car keys, jewelry, cash and gold, etc.).
  • What is the best solution for you?

The ideal strategy for password management depends on your preferences and risk tolerance.  If something happens to you, the legal process to gain access to your online accounts and digital assets can be lengthy and cumbersome.  To avoid this, consider providing a list of your accounts and passwords to your designated agents and fiduciaries.  Doing so is helpful not only for determining where you have accounts and managing them on your behalf in the event of your incapacity, but also for collecting and terminating the accounts after you have passed.  

Regardless of your situation, we recommend meeting with your estate planning attorney to discuss how you can plan for your digital assets.  If you have questions or would like to schedule an appointment, please contact us through our website or call us at 480-951-8044.

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