As society becomes more digital, all our personal information and even some possessions are stored on the internet. Everyone seems to have email accounts, photos, social media accounts, and cloud storage just to name a few, but the list can be endless. To combat security issues, every website has a different password with different rules and requirements. If something were to happen to you where you can no longer communicate, how are family members supposed to gain access to your important information? A question I frequently hear is, “Should I add my digital assets into my estate plan?”
I find with most married couples; one person is the ‘gatekeeper’ and knows the passwords (or where they are saved) for all the accounts that are necessary to handle daily life. Now, imagine the trouble and headache if something were to happen to the ‘Gatekeeper’ and the other spouse couldn’t get into all the accounts. This scenario plays out time and time again and just taking a few simple steps could save a lot of headaches.
I believe one of the smartest things you can do for your spouse is to make sure they have access to and know-how to open every digital account needed for daily life. Generally, there are two recommendations for how and where this list should be maintained. You can write down all the usernames and passwords and keep the sheet in a safe with your personal estate plan documents. The big caveat with this method is you must remember to update the list every time you change a password to one of your accounts or add a new account. Another option, which I am a personal fan of, is to use an online password account manager. This is an online secure website where you can enter all of your usernames and passwords to all of your internet accounts. Every website has different rules for passwords, and this is a great way to store all your passwords. If you go this route, your spouse only needs to know one master password and they will be able to gain access to all the other accounts.
Additionally, by providing access to your online digital assets, you can give specific instructions on what you want to happen to them, meaning, all your accounts can be deleted, or your spouse/family make sure all recurring payments are stopped, or your spouse/family can get access to your digital photos that may only be on a social media account.
One thing to keep in mind; don’t include the actual passwords and account information in your will. After your death, a will becomes a public document. If your estate has to go through the probate process to be distributed, your will first must be filed with your local county clerk of the court. That means any private information detailed in a will can easily be accessed by people who have no business having that information.
If you have any questions regarding this topic, or regarding your personal estate plan, please reach out and contact us today. In the world of estate planning, preparation is key.