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Pre-planning for Online Accounts

In 2004, all Justin Ellsworth’s family wanted was access to his Yahoo E-mail account so they could make a scrapbook in his memory. Ellsworth was a young Marine killed in Iraq; and because of Yahoo’s privacy agreement, the company refused to give anyone but the Marine access. His family had to file a lawsuit in order to be able to receive copies of the E-mails contained in Justin’s account.

As we continue the trend of becoming increasingly paperless and moving more information online, it is important to remember that one day others may need access to our accounts. The need for security is vital with the millions of scams online and that has caused companies, such as Yahoo, to develop policies concerning access to accounts after a loved one has passed away. Websites may not provide login access to relatives and simply deactivate the account after a certain amount of time or when they’re notified of the death. The loved one may be required to show a death certificate and proof of power of attorney to gain access.

This is why it is important to designate someone to be a “digital executor” and provide them with the necessary information and instructions on managing your online accounts after your death. You should create instructions detailing what you want done to your online accounts and the information needed to do it. You will need to include a list of all your online accounts with the login data needed to access them (user name or number, password or PIN, secret question answers). This includes everything from E-mail and online banking to social media and online subscriptions.

There are multiple options for storing this information that will become vital for your digital executor after your death. You can put the information on a USB drive, burn it on a CD or print out a list and keep it in a safety deposit box or give it to an attorney, family member or friend to hold onto. Another option is to create an executor E-mail account where you E-mail all of your login information for your online accounts to that address and only give the executor E-mail account login information to a lawyer with the name of the digital executor you have chosen. A third option is choosing an online service that you pay for to store your information and notify the designated people when you pass away. A few examples are Legacy Locker, Asset Lock, and Deathswitch.

Any of these methods may be suitable for each individual’s needs. It has always been common sense for adults to create an estate plan and keep important records accessible for those who will one day need them. Now, with the world going digital, it creates a whole new aspect to pre-planning that didn’t exist just a few years ago.


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