Death and … passwords?

Estate planning in the Internet age

Computer Password

I admit that it’s a bit of a stretch to write about passwords on a financial blog, but to be fair, it’s part of estate planning these days.  Also, I find that people who invest are generally the type of people who like to take care of business, as it were.  This being the Internet, that’s enough of a tie-in for me to post this here.

Every once in a while, you hear an idea that is so good, and so obvious (in hindsight) that you wonder how you have been able to live so long without thinking of it yourself.  If you’re like me, you (metaphorically!) kick yourself, make a mental note, and then, well, misplace the note a few days later.  And so it was with this idea, until I was reminded of it again the other day.  This, time, however, I’m writing it down so that I absolutely can’t forget to do it.  …someday.

Estate planning, and preparing for death in general, is never exactly a barrel of laughs.  Especially when it’s your own.  According to a June BMO report, 9 in 10 Canadian boomers have their wills prepared.  That’s actually pretty good.  However, the next line states that almost half of those people have not updated their wills in the last ten years.  There are all kinds of obvious problems with that, but they’re obvious, so you don’t need my help to figure them out.  The much less obvious problem “in this ever-changing world in which we live in” is passwords.  It’s safe to say that the average person is very likely to have more passwords in his life than was the case 10 years ago.  Online banking and bill-paying are far more common now, and the number of email, online store, and social media accounts continues to rise.  Trying to convince somebody over the phone or by email that your loved one has died, and that the organization should give you their password probably isn’t going to end in success very often.  As such, it’s up to you to save your family the frustration.  Tell them how to access your online assets, and what you would like done with them.

Who do you want to have access to your email account(s)?  What, if anything, do you want them to send out as a final message to your contacts, many of whom may be nothing more than brief acquaintances from many years ago?  Do you want your Facebook page to come down, or to stay up as a testament to the life you lived?  What about your blog (which may or may not involve an income stream)?  In this last example, you may want a kindred spirit you found on the Internet – somebody you may well have never actually met – to continue the work that you began.  There are of course many good questions to be asked, and many decisions to be made, and if you want to be the one making those decisions, they should be part of your will, or at the very least, be written down in a place where you know they will be found, such as in a sealed envelope in a safe deposit box.

Leaving aside for a moment the actual grieving process, when a person dies, there is a mountain of work to be done. For most aspects of a person’s life, there are well-worn ways to wind up affairs. Money, assets, and heirlooms are divided up and distributed (hopefully) as per the deceased’s wishes. When conflict arises, there are well-known and widely accepted ways of solving disputes. I’m no lawyer (I’ve never even played one on TV) but it seems to me that “wrapping up” a person’s online identity is a much less travelled path, and so is open to the possibility of acrimonious, long-term conflict.  Take steps now to save you family from such a fate.

Here’s hoping you take care of this soon, and that your thoughtfulness isn’t appreciated for many, many years!

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