I recently had a discussion with a client whose spouse had just become gravely ill. In reviewing the standard areas that we all tend to procrastinate, relative to getting our affairs in order, the client acknowledged that they had not thought of one very important issue; passwords to their spouse’s electronic accounts. We generally understand and remember that it is important to tell our loved ones where we keep our important documents or keys to the safe deposit box but it is not common that I hear clients have some mechanism in place to identify accounts and passwords for email, social media, banking, etc. so their loved ones know how to access them. This is ironic considering that in this day and age, most people have taken steps to reduce their paper footprint and move more of their financial and personal lives online.
While the powers of attorney we are currently drafting for clients provide specific authority for an agent to access this kind of information from an online source, the reality is that using such documents for this purpose is becoming more and more difficult. (Ever try to reach your email provider by phone?) For this reason, it is not a bad idea to maintain some mechanism for identifying account login names, passwords and any other important information to assist your loved ones in settling your affairs or accessing important information in the event you are incapacitated. There are numerous companies that provide “digital vault” services for a fee. Most clients that maintain these kinds of records, in my experience, do it in paper form and keep the document secured. While it is important to document this critical information, it is just as important to keep it up to date as it is good practice to regularly change your passwords to sites that house your personal information.
Although we are living in a digital age, the lesson here is probably not go totally paperless, however tempting it may be. Be sure to leave the keys to your digital life and include this important issue in your estate planning.