If you die, who has your passwords?

Can your family access your password protected information?  

In this Workflow and Style article, I discuss how family planning has become more than wills, health proxies, and who gets grandma’s jewelry.  It now must include on-line account information and passwords.

Imagine the following:  You use a PC to manage your finances and keep family records.  For protection, your PC is protected by a strong password.  You become forgetful, incapacitated, or worse. 

Yseniorsour family or business colleagues need access to your on-line accounts and the information within your PC.  Everything is password protected.  They have no idea what your passwords are.  They’re locked out of your digital life.  What can they do?  Sorry, not much.  You’ve left big trouble.  Really big trouble.   If only you, your family, and your business colleagues had planned for this day. 

Is this scenario real?  You bet it is.  These families and business partners often contact me for help.  It has become my mission to help you, your family, and your business avoid this potential catastrophe.  Please contact me if you need help addressing this issue before it becomes a problem.

 As you get older – and as your parents get older – you start thinking about family planning.  Conversations change from what the kids are doing to wills and health proxies.  If you are serious about family planning, you might seek the guidance of your accountant, lawyer, and financial adviser.  That should do it.  Right?

Well, today, you also need the advice of your IT consultant.  Why?  Because your assets are no longer only physical.  They are digital, cloud-based, and password protected. 

Some of my clients have physical limitations, sometimes brought on by age or disease.  They want to be independent and not be a burden to their family.  And so, they ask me to set up their new PC, smart device, and Wi-Fi network.

Too often, as I set up their on-line accounts, locating their passwords is a challenge.  Eventually, I find their passwords are stored on endless post-its and scraps of paper.  Log-in information is often left to their memory – which is never a good thing.  Frequently, I have to quickly figure out how to reset a lost password.

In my discussions with business clients, I strongly urge the collection and secure placement of digital records and on-line account information.  Sometimes I’m successful, sometimes my client shows little interest.

The hybrid approach – digital and paper 

Until recently, I had been encouraging all of my clients to create a simple Word document or Excel spreadsheet to store their on-line accounts and log-in information.  I have expanded this strategy to also include at least one physical copy of this information.  And so, please print out a copy of your passwords document and place it with your other planning documents (will, health proxy, et al), so that if you are unavailable, your digital records can be accessed by your family and business associates.

Having the where are the passwords talk

 After mom and dad leave this world, the surviving children often race around to gather documents and collect assets.  Sometimes they will call me asking if I know the family passwords.

To avoid this unpleasant and sometimes catastrophic scenario, consider the following:

If you are a senior, consolidate your on-line account log-in information in a Word or EXCEL file, print it out, and save it alongside your will, health proxy, et al.  Update this document every time you change a password or add a new on-line account.

Tell your responsible children the location of this document.  If you own a business, follow the same protocol and make sure a trusted employee has access to this information.

If you are the child or adviser of a senior, make sure you know where the important family documents are, including the password list.  If the senior trusts you with access to their accounts, confirm that the log-in information actually works.

Don’t forget the password to your PC.  Always make sure someone else has this password.

Accessing your child’s PC and on-line accounts 

Sadly, we live in a complex and dangerous world.  You may need access to the PCs, smart devices, and on-line accounts of your children.  At any moment, one of their devices may be lost or stolen with sensitive family information inside.

If using an iPhone, make sure you can locate the device via Find My iPhone.  You will need their Apple account log-in for this.

When your child gets a new device, they often apply a password to lock YOU out.  However annoying this may be to any parent, it’s also dangerous.  Get those passwords – and test them regularly.

Business planning – it’s time to raise your game 

If you own a business, do you have all of the passwords?  Where are they stored?  Are you sure you have all of them?  Do they work?

Too many business owners are disconnected from their required digital responsibilities.  One of my clients told me I don’t want to be involved with this.  Some business owners have almost no technology skills.  Instead of raising their game, they choose to simply avoid getting involved here.  This is bad, really bad.

Get your IT professional involved 

Planning discussions, whether with family or business partners, are often uncomfortable.  Decisions have to be made.  Sometimes disagreements arise.

To facilitate these discussions, traditional professionals such as accountants, doctors, lawyers, and financial planners are often involved.  Passwords and the whereabouts of your digital documents should be added to your planning discussions.

I suggest you involve a technology professional in gathering your passwords, organizing important digital documents, and making sure this information is available when you’re not.

Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or need assistance.