Don’t Take Your Passwords and Assets to the Grave

So you’ve seen a trusted estate planning attorney and created your estate plan. Then you shared your relevant estate planning choices with your family. Now what? Now it is time to get organized.

In this digital age, it is not unusual for executors or personal representatives to be forced to hire computer forensic experts to hack into their loved ones computers and online accounts after they have passed away. This is a costly, stressful, and time consuming process that is easily avoidable.

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At least a few email providers, Google and AOL, grant access to the next-of-kin so long as they can provide a copy of the death certificate and a copy of a document giving the person some kind of power of attorney over the email account. Yahoo will grant access to the family, but only after a court order is issued to grant the access.

To complicate matters, as paper statements fall out of favor and online usage grows, it will become more and more likely that family and loved ones will not have access to or even know about bank accounts, financial accounts, or personal belongings like photos or music collections. Without access to paper statements or the deceased’s email accounts, investments, bank accounts, real estate, and insurance policy benefits may go unclaimed and will eventually be turned over to the state in a process called escheatment. Each year, millions of dollars in unclaimed assets are escheated to each state because no one stepped forward to claim their interest in the asset (not because the family didn’t want the asset, but because they truly had no way of knowing about the asset).

To avoid these types of complications it is important to inventory your financial accounts as well as your digital assets and passwords. Organizing this information will help your family handle your affairs after your death.

At a bare minimum you should write out an inventory of your financial and digital assets, as well as a list of your user names and passwords that are associated with each asst. It is also important to inventory any personal property assets such as jewelry, coins, precious metals, or collectables. This inventory needs to be kept somewhere secure like a home lock box or a safe deposit box. Keeping an inventory and password list at home may seem counterintuitive, but “a thief breaking into your house is more interested in your credit cards, iPad, flat-screen TV, [or] prescription drugs [rather] than a piece of paper with some hieroglyphics that they have to try and correlate back to some website,” Nick Berry, a data scientist at Facebook says. There are also web-based services that allow users to store information about their physical and digital assets and are set up to release this information to authorized individuals. These web services are easier to update than a written list in your safe deposit box.

This is truly a case of something is better than nothing. However you chose to organize this information is not important. The small amount of time it takes you to scribble some notes will exponentially save your family time and frustration on the back end.

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