Digital Legacy

Your internet passwords, combinations, and other secure information is important information that becomes part of your legacy when you die.  Your legacy is whatever assets and property you leave behind after you die. In today’s digital age that includes email accounts, online bank accounts, user names, passwords, automatic payments, and the list goes on.  Even if you just leave your passwords for your estate’s personal representative, this might not be sufficient to allow your family to retrieve all your vital information stored in the digital realm.

Your personal representative, who you’ve selected in your will to manage your assets and estate, must take care of your bank accounts, which are increasingly being used outside of brick-and-mortar branches.  This can include your automatic payment plans; investment information, like automatic dividend payments; electronic financial statements and bills.  You must also consider your email, your Facebook, your Instagram, Twitter and more.

If your trusted person cannot access these accounts and social media, it could even take a court order simply to access your online banking accounts and even your email account! Careful planning ahead of time can avoid the expensive and complex process of needing to obtain a court order to simply access online accounts.

However, you never want to put your usernames and passwords in your will.  Remember, your will becomes a public document after you die, because it is filed with your county’s probate court.  Some states require wills to be filed with the court even if your estate doesn’t go through probate, which can happen in some situations.  Also, your will is likely to be distributed to banks and title companies after you die to effectuate transfers of your assets.  But you can find a way to avoid having that confidential information printed where anyone other than your personal representative can access it.

The simplest and best way to create your digital legacy is to leave a list, or “library,” of usernames and passwords and PINs for your online accounts, and store it with your will or with other important documents like your durable power of attorney.  Be sure to include information on how to access:

  • Computers (for example, your system that is locked and requires a password to access it);
  • Internet service providers or web hosting services;
  • Email accounts (email providers all have their own rules about access after a death; some allow next of kin access, some won’t give access to anyone);
  • All social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn;
  • Your online subscriptions (for example, magazine subscriptions that renew automatically or subscriptions to certain podcasts or websites);
  • Personal blogs, or photo-storage sites;
  • Financial sites (banks and brokerages) where you have money saved or invested;
  • Your mortgage servicer’s website;
  • Utilities or other companies where you have set up automatic bill-paying;
  • College savings and retirement plans;
  • Software applications like TurboTax or QuickBooks (for example, tax return or legal document preparation programs or websites), and
  • Cell phones, which you likely have locked with a PIN.

Finally, communication is the key. Visit your estate planning lawyer to help you make the list and ensure that it is in the proper form and that it is complete, workable and comprehensive.  Make sure your personal representative or another trusted person knows where to find your digital information list.  Get the information organized, then put in a place that is secure but also accessible. Finally, if you leave the list in your safety deposit box at your bank or in a home safe, don’t forget to leave a set of keys, too.  Your lawyer can help advise you on what to do every step of the way.