What happens to all of your digital accounts after you die? Well, it depends partially on whether or not anyone has the passwords they need to access your accounts and memorialize the data.
Even if you don’t care about the future of your online persona, it’s a good practice to make sure your family has access to your digital accounts. This ensures that if you die, they will be able to access your email address book and notify your friends of your death. They will be able to open up your computer and see (and save) your photos—something that is especially important if you have kids who will want to treasure those photos — deactivate your accounts so they can’t be hacked and pay your bills without hassle.
How to Communicate Your Passwords
The challenge? You might not want everyone to have access to your online life while you are still alive. Here’s some guidance on sharing your passwords:
If You’re Married
If you’re married, make sure that both spouses have easy access to any “joint” online accounts. This means all utility accounts, college savings plans for the kids and any joint accounts like credit cards or bank accounts. Sometimes one spouse manages monthly bills, but both partners should know account information.
It’s possible, though, that both you and your spouse could die at the same time… in a car accident, for example. To prepare for this (unlikely) event, make sure it’s also possible for someone else to find your passwords. It’s a good idea to put all of your passwords in a safe place where people aren’t going to be snooping around unless you die, such as with your will.
If You’re Single
If you’re single and don’t share financial responsibilities with anyone, you need to make sure that someone could easily handle your affairs immediately after your death, if necessary. Since it’s that much more likely that something could happen to you—and there is no one who already has access to your passwords—it’s even more important for single people to think ahead. Create a sheet of all of your passwords—financial and otherwise—and put it with your will and/or with your lawyer.
What Passwords to Include
So which passwords do you need to include? The easy answer is all of them, but of course there are limits. Even things like your password for your New York Times subscription should be included, because the executor of your estate will need to cancel your account for you— much easier to do from inside your account than mailing a copy of your death certificate and your will.
Make sure you include the following types of passwords:
- Bill payments—taxes, utilities, subscriptions, etc.
- Social media accounts
- Passwords to unlock your electronic devices
- Any photo-sharing accounts
- Financial passwords, including passwords for PayPal or any way that you receive money
- Health spending account passwords
- Email passwords
- Any other password that’s needed to handle your affairs.
Having all of your passwords in-hand can make things much easier for your executor—and/or for the surviving spouse. Some simple planning and organization will lead to security for your digital assets and accounts — and allow your family to breathe easier.