These days, more and more of everyone’s lives are online: paperless statements, Facebook accounts, Twitter, e-mail, and more. The online world is putting newspapers out of business, and driving Postal losses. Relics of your life are all over the web, and often remain after your death. In short, the internet is changing everything about our lives including how estates are administered while we are alive and after death.
Beginning March 1, 2013, everyone who receives Social Security benefits or VA benefits must have signed up for direct deposit. If you receive benefits on behalf of a Social Security or VA benefits recipient, you are also required to sign up for direct deposit with the government by March 1. Failure to enroll in the online program should not result in an interruption of benefits to individuals receiving VA Aid & Attendance Non-Service Connected Disability or other benefits, but may result in additional correspondence from the Department of Treasury.
Additionally, after death, consider a very basic estate: a few bank accounts and some ongoing bills. If you have “gone green” and now receive your bills, bank statements, payment reminders, and other important documents online, then your Trustee or Executor may have to be able to access that information to know what assets and liabilities belong to your estate. Marshaling assets and determining what creditors, if any, exist are among the very first steps in estate administration, but it is no longer enough to simply check the mail for bills and statements. Often e-mails saying “Important Message” will require logging into the underlying account before the message can be retrieved. Failure to provide these passwords can lead to additional expenses, a longer administration, and a lot of needless headaches.
In a more complicated administration, such as one involving a business, an Executor or Trustee’s inability to access your e-mail account could cost significant amounts of lost revenue. The problem grows exponentially in especially time-sensitive businesses. If you have spent any time and money doing business succession planning, it would be a shame for the business to fold because of a locked e-mail account.
Finally, in some instances, your online life simply makes people uncomfortable. Facebook will only allow a user to deactivate his own account, which means logging into the account and selecting the option. For someone who does not have your Facebook password, the best they can do is set up a memorial account for you. However, in the meantime, you will still show up in “people you may know” search bars or applications may post to your account leading to friend requests that will never be answered and a feeling like someone is haunting your account.
In sum, dealing with the conflict between maintaining the purpose of a password, which is private access to certain pages and accounts and allowing effective and expeditious administration of your trust or estate is difficult; you are left with relatively few options. You may tell one person all your passwords, which can lead to them accessing your information now or forgetting. You can defy conventional wisdom and write all your passwords down. I suggest keeping your passwords in your safe deposit box or some similarly secure location and updating it regularly. Finally, you could consider a web service, like LastPass. However, LastPass requires its own password!
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