If you’ve written a will, your property will be given to the people you named – probably. At least, most of your property will be given to the people you named. Property that no one knows exists, or property that no one can get to will simply languish, abandoned, getting older and more outdated but never decaying.
I’m talking about digital property, internet real estate that you can’t touch. You can see it, if you know where to look, but you can’t touch it unless you have the magic password – or if not a magic password, a regular old password and a username.
Nearly everything we do online these days needs a password. Without even realizing it, you could have acquired an array of digital accounts larger than the jewel collections held by emperors of old. Out of curiosity, the other day I made a list of all my accounts I could think of. Of course, I have accounts related to my business so a person who doesn’t use the web in a business of their own may not have this many accounts, but I still made my own jaw drop on the floor when I came up with a list of about 60+ real accounts (I didn’t include things like Runescape and Neopets that I used to play with my kids).
Some accounts are important to your life, but not so important to your executor. Your online banking account and utility accounts are examples. You need them to conduct business but your executor will know you have these accounts in real life and can go straight to the institutions for access to information. Other accounts are not this way. For example, an account with an online newspaper to which you pay a subscription fee may only be known to you. That is, until the charges appear on your bank account and the executor has to go looking for the source.
As part of your estate planning, it’s a good idea to go through your digital accounts and online journals, blogs, shopping and sharing activities and make a list for distribution to appropriate people upon your death. Review each category of online activity and determine IF, WHO, and HOW you want to leave password information.
Email: this is the lifeblood of your online world. You probably have contacts in email that are not in any other address book. You probably have people who only know how to contact you via email. And if you’re like me, if you have “gone paperless” for any of your utility, financial, insurance, or other accounts, email may be the only way for your executor to figure out who you may owe money to and who may owe money to you.
Financial accounts: If there is a paper listing somewhere of what institutions have your accounts, your executor may not need online account access. However, if your family will need to continue the account, they may need more immediate access through your online account.
Utility accounts: Like financial accounts, your executor may not need online access, but if your family will continue to pay the account each month, it’s probably a good idea to give someone else access.
Personal accounts: There are numerous web-based activities and services that require passwords. You probably have some mixture of social media, games, newspapers, chat boards, listserves, shopping, and other types of accounts. Go through each of these accounts and determine if you need or want to let someone into them upon your death. Some won’t matter, some you will want to pass on to another person, and some you may want to let die a quiet, anonymous death.
Business accounts: You may have accounts that are business –related even if you work for someone else. Continuing education, business email, networking, etc may all have business purposes but be under your personal name. You should leave someone the passwords to these accounts if they are important to the business, or if you have a credit card on file with them that will be making auto-payments that need to be stopped.
Because we add accounts and change passwords frequently, your digital assets need to be reviewed and updated more frequently than you review and update your will. And by the way, you are reviewing your will every year, aren’t you?