Death and passwords
December 5, 2020
Along with wills, revocable living trusts, financial powers of attorney and the rest of the paperwork, don't forget your digital life when planning your estate.
Your email accounts, social media accounts, PayPal, Venmo, or other digital payment accounts, any websites you own, as well as digital currencies are all considered digital assets and need to be part of your estate.
What? Do you think you're too young to worry about estate planning? Have you heard of a thing called "accidents?" Don't leave your family and friends struggling to figure out your accounts and passwords after you're gone.
Maybe you don't have many financial assets yet, but I'll bet you have digital assets. In fact, for most people, fewer financial assets usually translate into more digital assets.
Most people have different, but overlapping, circles of friends and maintain contact with them in different ways. Your Instagram friends might not have your email address, and your Facebook friends certainly won't have your PayPal information.
You should make an inventory of your digital assets. Something as simple as the http://whatever address and your username and password for that site. List all of your social media accounts, bank and credit union accounts, and the sites for the bills you pay online. No need to bust out a fancy spreadsheet for this, a handwritten list on a sheet of paper will do. The goal here is simply to pass on information. However, I do like a fancy spreadsheet.
In your will or trust include a statement authorizing your executor to retrieve your digital assets. This statement authorizes your executor to shut down your social media accounts and allows them access to your financial accounts to carry out your wishes as expressed in your will or trust.
Services like Google, PayPal, Facebook, and other service providers offer configuration options for naming a legacy contact or for automatically shutting down or deleting an inactive account.
Of course, you can make this whole process more manageable if you use a password manager. Include the single password to your password manager in your will or estate, and that's it. Using a password manager also means that passwords won't be a hassle for you while you're still here, so it's a win-win.
LastPass, Dashlane, 1Pass, and Keeper are all first-class, well-reviewed password managers that work on multiple platforms and browsers, and on mobile devices, too. Pick one and use it.
If you don't want to use a password manager or make a fancy spreadsheet for your digital assets, you can always use a sheet of paper with everything written down. If you take the spreadsheet or paper list route, remember to keep it as up to date as possible. I've helped people trying to figure out current passwords from password lists that were ten years old. We didn't have much success.
If you can't or won't use a password manager and the thought of making a fancy spreadsheet or a paper list of your digital assets makes you break out in a cold sweat, how about using the browser on your computer? It's always asking if you want it to remember the password you just entered, right?
Many browsers now offer password manager-like features. Including secure password suggestions when you're creating a new account, warnings when your account is involved in a data breach, and syncing your information, making it easier to transfer settings (including passwords) from an old computer to a new one or your tablet and or phone.
Security-wise, the password data saved by your browser gets secured by the same encryption and two-factor authentication features you use with your email, cloud storage, and device security features.
If you use multiple browsers like Microsoft Edge, Safari, and Firefox, your saved passwords won't sync between different browsers. Most browsers can't store your notes, receipts, or payment information, but a password manager can.
You can use your browser to store your passwords, but use a password manager for the most security, flexibility, and survivability.
True story (as far as you know)
Someone figured out my password.
Now I have to rename my dog.