For Complete Estate Planning, Leave Your Passwords With Someone
If you have just started to plan your estate and work up a will or living trust, don't forget to address one crucial aspect that could make your beneficiaries' lives a lot easier: your online life. So much of life today is lived online, through online bills, social media, and more. Without access to your online life, your real-life heirs will have a harder time settling your affairs.
Ease of Access
With updated logins and passwords, your heirs can go in and figure out what accounts need to be addressed, such as online bills for which there might not be a paper trail, and if there is any other information that needs to be seen. Many online companies, such as email providers, have procedures for requesting access to a deceased person's account. However, you can't always count on the companies to respond, as surprising as that may seem. Many times the companies can simply deny access because they want to. But if you leave passwords with someone or leave them in a safe place, then your heirs can access everything.
With the rise of social media—not just today's platforms but the chat rooms and bulletin boards of the past several years—has come the rise of the internet friend, the friend who you've known for years through an online service but who you've never met in person. You might not have a physical contact for this person in your address book. Letting your heirs know how to get into your social media accounts is the only way, really, for them to be able to notify anyone you know online only of your death.
How to Do This
The basic idea is to have all of your passwords and logins kept somewhere safe. Your filing cabinet is one such possible location; ensure that someone has a spare key or that someone knows where the spare key is, in case your keychain is lost or in the hands of another heir who is away for a while. (Given that so many families live apart now, it's not unusual after a death for heirs to have to schedule trips in and out of the deceased's city so they can take care of both the deceased's affairs and their own lives.)
Another step is to leave a copy of the information and a key in a safe deposit box. This requires keeping up on payments and ensuring that the bank knows you are frequently checking your box. However, this can be a questionable option given some of the mistakes banks have made with destroying safe deposit boxes in the past.
Another option is to leave the information with an estate lawyer who can hold onto your paperwork and passwords. The lawyer should have enough information about the heirs to recognize them if they show up with your death certificate.
Your online life is important and only growing in how crucial it is to settling your affairs after your death. Talk to an estate lawyer about the best way to ensure your heirs can access your information.