Gayle Reeves' Blog

What to do with All those Passwords??

Gayle A. Reeves - Friday, July 11, 2014

       If you are like a lot of people, you have moved much of your physical items to digital.  We no longer have a physical address book.  Everyone’s contact information is stored on our cell phone or computer.  Many businesses have encouraged you to stop receiving paper statements.  Now you access them online.  We don’t write checks, we pay bills on line.  We maintain online store accounts like ebay and woot.  We have digital media accounts through itunes to get our favorite songs and videos on our ipods.  We access books online and read, or listen, to them on our kindle or ipad.  We keep up with our family and friends using social media.  We even play our games using online profiles.  Photo albums have given way to storing our pictures on our computers or with online companies.

            Our digital assets can be broken down into 4 main categories: personal, social media, financial, and business.  Personal assets are photographs, videos, emails, medical records, and tax documents.  Social media assets are items on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.  Financial accounts are not only our bank and brokerage accounts that we access online, but also online accounts like eBay and PayPal.  Most individuals who engage in any type of commercial practice store their information on their computer.  What all of these categories have in common is you need a username and password in order to access the information.  I have over 40 different user names and passwords just for my personal life.  This does not include the ones I use through my business.  So, the question becomes, how will Executors access this information if they don’t know it exists?

            The first place to start is to create an inventory of your online assets.  You should include everything from your computer or other electronic device (starting with the password to open your computer), such as, email accounts, social websites, financial accounts, health insurance accounts, rewards programs, and online store accounts.  You will need to include how and where they are held, account numbers, user names, passwords, and answers to secret questions. 

            Once you have completed your inventory, you need to decide who you want to have access to this information and what you want to have happen to the information, whether to delete, close, archive, share, or maintain the account.  This information should be included in your estate planning documents. 

            Since very few states, including Ohio, have laws regarding the disposition of digital assets, it is important to understand the rules that apply to an account when the owner has become incapacitated or has died, or if the provider even has any such rules.  This is an area of law that will continue to evolve and change as the use of digital assets continues to increase.