You Die - Your Passwords And User Names Die With You
Category: Estate Planning, Probate and Estate Administration
As part of every Estate Planning consultation these days, I ask not only "Where do you keep your assets" (ie: what institutions do you use for banks, brokerage accounts) but "How do you access your assets?" The point of the second question is to find out if the client takes advantage of electronic account access, and if so, who else shares access to those accounts.
I was reminded for the importance of this from the article: wcco.com - When Passwords And User Names Die With The User: "Security experts warn us to keep our passwords and user names under lock and key. But what happens after a loved one dies? How do survivors get access to information and documents kept squirreled away in safe deposit boxes and hard drives for years?"
The questions is even more prevalent when there is no hard data. Many people don't receive paper account statements and only access bank and brokerage accounts online. Or there are direct deposit or direct withdrawals set up only online. In this case, an executor may not even know about the assets until a tax statement comes in January, or by running an escheated asset search (escheated assets are assets that are turned over to that state if the institution can't find the owner).
First, the motivation for taking the steps below is avoiding the alternative - going to court for an order to get access to the accounts (if your executor even knows where the accounts are).
The best way to address concerns raised by assets in the electronic age from an estate planning and estate administration perspective is to employ some practical advice:
- Each spouse keeps a spreadsheet of Institution Name, Website, Account Number, User Name, Password
- The spreadsheet is updated WHENEVER a change is made
- Save the spreadsheet to a removable media format (CD, DVD-R, USB Flash-Drive, etc).
- Save the removable media format in a safe location that your spouse, power of attorney, key adult child(ren) and attorney are aware of (safe deposit box, fireproof vault, drawer in the house where the important stuff is)
- If you password protect the file, you need to make sure that your spouse, power of attorney, key adult child(ren) and attorney are aware of
If putting all this in a safe place and telling key people of it concerns you because the key people have access to your accounts, you need to rethink the key people.
MOST IMPORTANT - If you make any changes to the information on the spreadsheet, update the spreadsheet and put in back in the safe (but well communicated) location.