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Don’t Forget to Pass On Your Passwords

By Bernard A. Krooks

We live in a technological world and some say this is supposed to make our lives easier and more efficient. However, there is a catch! What happens to all your passwords when you pass away? How will your relatives and your estate gain access to all the important data needed to manage your affairs after you are gone?

Failure to make plans for online accounts or to leave behind a comprehensive list of passwords can cause unexpected hassles. Online banking accounts need to be secured and closed. Family members may want access to accounts in order to download and save any photos, writings or other digital works for posterity. Most terms of use expressly forbid the use of an account by anyone other than the account holder, and attempting to address these issues without proper instructions can be difficult.

In this electronic age, individuals should leave instructions to their agents and their survivors regarding access to online accounts, including passwords. More people conduct financial business online than ever before, creating varied passwords for all accounts. Some people never write down this information and change passwords frequently. This process might work well while someone is alive and well, but it can create havoc if the person becomes incapacitated or dies. It is more important than ever that individuals leave a list of account numbers along with access IDs and electronic passwords. This is particularly true if a person is receiving account statements by email rather than by regular mail.

Individuals may also have photos on a website such as Snapfish, Kodak Gallery, or Shutterfly that the family wants to save. Many Internet-based providers have guidelines to help family members unravel electronic accounts in the absence of a password. America Online (AOL) requires a copy of an individual’s death certificate and proof that another is authorized to administer the estate before turning over an account to a survivor. eBay requires similar documentation in order for a survivor to access a decedent’s eBay seller’s account. eBay will not, however, grant access to an eBay buyer’s account. Google requires the same documentation as AOL for access to a Gmail account, but it also requires an email that the decedent, using the Gmail account in question, had contacted the survivor on any topic during the decedent’s lifetime.

Facebook puts the deceased person’s profile in a “memorial state” when it is informed of a user’s death. The login and password will not be provided to anyone, but Facebook will respond to requests from the immediate family to remove the profile.

Individuals should review their electronic mail and financial accounts and make a list of the accounts and passwords for their own use. The list should be stored in a safe place, and they should also ensure that their family members know how to access the list in the event of their death or incapacity.

It is increasingly difficult to make it through life without leaving an online trail of emails, accounts, and passwords. These assets need to be addressed in an estate plan in order to protect your privacy and the privacy of your family, friends, and business associates. Gathering information about accounts and passwords and indicating what should be done with them upon your death will ease the burden on family members and protect important online assets.

Contact Littman Krooks to learn how we can serve your elder law and estate planning needs.

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