If you’re like most people, you have a slew of passwords that you struggle to keep track of. Maybe you have some of them written down on sticky notes in your desk. You may be using the same password for many accounts that you have used for many years. You sometimes wonder how anyone could manage your digital affairs if something happened to you. While the conveniences of online accounts are impossible to ignore, most of us have significant holes in our digital asset management strategy and our legacy related to these assets.
Managing Online Account Access
Before we did everything online, we received periodic statements in the mail that alerted our family members of accounts they may not have known about while we were alive, but for many people that is no longer the case. Who wants all that mail when you can pull up your account on your phone in seconds? But that makes it tricky to know about a person’s complete assets when they die and to obtain access to those accounts. One solution is to make a written list of accounts to store with your estate plan documents, but those can become outdated quickly. Another option is an external hard drive on which you can store accounts digitally, making sure to avoid storing them on your computer hard drive, which may be easy prey for hackers.
A better solution is a password manager that you update as you change passwords or open new accounts. A password manager is very useful in your daily life and encourages you to use more complex, and therefore more secure, passwords. It can also be very convenient for your heirs. There are many tools out there for this purpose, like Dashline, Keeper, or 1Password. With this tool, you only need to provide the password manager information to your heirs, which won’t change like all your other digital information. Password managers may also have an option to designate emergency access to trusted individuals.
Our email accounts are often a gateway to our lives and there’s a lot you can learn about a person by reading their personal emails. For this reason, it’s important to manage these accounts closely. For example, if your friend notifies you that they received a bizarre, nonsensical email from you, change your password immediately because your account likely has been hacked. This is a great reminder to remain vigilant about the information you email to others. Never send sensitive information, like account numbers, passwords, or Social Security numbers through email. You should also review the policy for your email provider to see how to set up a designated legacy person to access your account upon your death or allow them to delete it altogether.
Since many of our online accounts are attached to our email addresses, leaving an unused email account open and not monitored can be a serious security risk.
Many companies, including First Business Bank, now use two-factor authentication, which requires you to use a generated code that you receive in an email or text message, along with your password to access an account. While the additional security is valuable, it also means your phone has become more important than it was before. You can set up facial recognition or a second fingerprint on some Apple iPhones, but the passcode is required if you restart the phone, so it’s more convenient to make sure your trusted person knows your passcode to your phone.
Protecting Your Sentimental Assets
Some of your digital assets may not have financial value, but have high emotional value. Consider all the photos, videos, and other content you may have on your computer, phone, in the cloud, or loaded to websites like Shutterfly. We often store these as digital assets only, and if we’re gone, so are these assets. Don’t forget to include these accounts as part of your estate plan.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention other non-financial online assets, like social media accounts. Many of these now offer options for how these accounts can be handled upon death. LinkedIn’s current policy is to delete an account when presented with a death certificate. Facebook has settings that each user can choose themselves, to either designate a legacy contact to have limited control of your profile, or to delete your profile altogether. You should review your settings for all your accounts and select how you’d like them handled after you pass away.
Maintaining Cryptocurrency Accounts
Perhaps the trickiest digital assets are cryptocurrency accounts, and this is a popular topic lately. This is complex because cryptocurrency is a “virtual wallet” stored on blockchain technology. While these assets can be designated in your will, it is important to provide the password information to your heirs because there is no way to reset your password.
The next time you meet with your estate planning attorney, your digital assets should be part of the conversation. Most states have now enacted a version of the Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act or similar legislation. Generally, these new laws have allowed fiduciaries access to digital assets if the individual has affirmatively consented. Your estate planning attorney can help you include provisions within your documents to ensure your digital assets are managed properly after you log off for the last time.