Don’t Play Password Jeopardy

Author: Lawrence S. Jacobs Date: 09/10/2014

Categories: Estate Planning and Administration, Partnership Planning

Without looking, can you name the five most important online financial accounts in your life – and the passwords that go with them? I suppose you might be able to do that, especially if you ignore everybody’s advice and use the same password over and over. But now take that test to the next level. Can you come up with the same information for one of your parents, your spouse, or any other person whose affairs you might be called on to oversee someday? Put the shoe on the other foot, and could any of them lay their hands on that information for you?

Great if you can. If you can’t, I’m not surprised. When I work with clients to craft the documents that go into a comprehensive estate plan – wills, trusts, powers of attorney, and others – we look ahead at the big issues that confront us all at some point. But I also advise clients to record and update details such as their User ID’s and passwords. In an ideal world, you wouldn’t share such valuable information prematurely, but only provide clear instructions for how and where it can be located. But we’re all human, and it’s easy to imagine all of the ways that process can fall apart.

I have a couple of recommendations you might want to consider. I use a password manager app called Dashlane. There are a number of such services that let you generate unique credentials for each site that requires them. You can access them with a single login. On a daily basis, the software can save you from the hassle of recording and/or remembering lots of passwords, and it can make online life much more secure. Ultimately – placed in the right hands at the right time – the password manager can drastically simplify the management of assets for an estate executor or for the agents named in your powers of attorney.

You may also want to look at “The Big Book of Everything” which was compiled by a gentleman after he had to deal with tons of paper and online information after the death of his father. You can download it for free. It is not a legal document, and it isn’t a substitute for careful planning. Still, it can save you or a loved one from “Password Jeopardy” by providing a framework to organize the kind of information I’ve been talking about here. Even if you don’t decide to use it yourself, it could be a helpful outline as you decide which information to locate and record.

You may be wondering why I am writing about this subject at all. Retrieving passwords doesn’t appear to have anything to do with estate planning. And yet they are closely related, if you define “estate planning” the way that I do. That is, taking various actions to be able to control the fallout and predict the outcome if bad things happen to you or your family. Sure, having a solid, current Financial Power of Attorney in place is an excellent way to insure that someone can pay your bills if you become incapacitated.  Yet, it could be even faster and easier if you’ve given someone online access to your electronic bill payment account, though admittedly less secure.  As this illustrates, there are many ways to accomplish your objectives. We do our best to guide you through them.

If you need help or have questions about estate planning, please contact me at (240) 778-2330.