This may be a really strange thought, but when you or a loved one dies, can you keep your usernames and passwords? Do you even think there is Internet access in Heaven? Well, no one really knows for sure. We’re waiting patiently, but we have not yet seen a blog or a Facebook posting from Heaven.
But back on earth web and social media use continues to grow at a staggering and exponential rate! In 2006 there were 2.7 billion Google searches per month. In 2008 there were 31 billion! Use of sites such as Facebook and Twitter are gaining use and popularity at extraordinary rates.
Do you know that it took television thirteen years to achieve an audience of 50 million? It took Facebook only two years! Facebook has 350 million users at this writing and is increasing every day. Two billion pictures are uploaded to Facebook each month.
Over 50% of American adults use the Internet for banking and bill paying. Over 80% of working adults use email. More people have more types of accounts online than ever before. We communicate online; we bank, pay our bills, buy and sell stuff, store photos, videos, etc. The list goes on and on! We have so many different accounts, usernames and passwords that we can barely keep track! And those lists are growing and growing.
Hopefully most of you are pretty good about storing your usernames and passwords in a safe place and making sure that no one has access to your accounts. But here is a question – what happens, and who has access to your accounts when you die?
Many people assume that a family member will be able to get access to this information. Unfortunately we have found that this may not be the case. According to Yahoo’s terms of service agreement, a person’s Yahoo account, including email is not transferrable. Yahoo closes the account and deletes all of the data when you die. Facebook will ‘memorialize’ the account, which will remove certain information, but still allow people to leave posts in remembrance. But they will not allow anyone access to the account. Try to find out what happens to your PayPal account at death (do a search), and there is no answer.
As we perform more and more activities online, it will become increasingly difficult for the executor and trustee of your estate to make sure all of your bills are being paid. And without access to your online accounts, it is very possible some of your assets may go undiscovered. That certainly is not good!
There will be other issues, such as who controls the items you have listed on eBay? How is money retrieved from a PayPal account? Who owns the content of your blog? Who owns your pictures, movies and podcasts? What about personal items such as any secret email, love letters or other correspondence that you do not want discovered by anyone after you are gone? You definitely need to plan for all of these scenarios.
Without an accurate list of all of your online accounts, usernames and passwords, it will be nearly impossible for your family members to locate them at your death. So what do you do?
Perhaps the simplest strategy would be to give a list of accounts, usernames and passwords to a family member or trusted advisor. Of course this violates the advice that every website gives you (to keep your password secret and never share it with anyone). A list of passwords could be kept in a safe deposit box, with access only to be given upon death or disability. Or special instructions concerning online accounts can be incorporated into a power of attorney, will, or trust. There are even some online services that allow for storage of username and password information and will send to the appropriate people upon death.
There is no doubt that the Internet is playing a more important role in our lives than ever before. As more and more information is put online, it becomes increasingly important to plan for how this information should be handled upon your disability or your death. Failure to plan properly could result in loss of valuable information and money, but may also cause unnecessary complications, difficulty and expense for your family.