At some point in your life, you will likely have assets and investments that you need to make arrangements for in the event of your passing. You may also have children, spouses or other loved ones who need to be looked after if something happens to you. And at some point, you may need to care for a spouse or close family member, or put their affairs in order after they pass on.
Nothing can spare us the heartache of these life events, but you can prevent unnecessary difficulties and stress by planning ahead. When preparing a will, many of us focus on our monetary and physical assets. But what about social media accounts? Or email addresses? Or the myriad of online accounts we use to manage our lives, every day?
Making a “digital will” that includes passwords and other important digital details will go a long way in helping those who need to settle your affairs, or in helping you if you need to settle the affairs of others.
Who Needs a Digital Will
We all arguably need a digital will. So much of our lives are now managed online. Whether it’s online banking, paying bills and the mortgage, managing investments, or even just socializing with family and friends, we have countless online accounts that we use to go online every day.
But it can be messy and overwhelming for anyone trying to carry out our final wishes or manage our accounts if we haven’t put things in order ahead of time. Many companies have unclear policies in the event of someone’s passing, resulting in lengthy wait times, stressful processes, and endless hand-offs from one representative to another just to reset a password or get access to an account.
That’s where a digital will is essential. You may need a digital will if:
- You have a significant online presence and want to ensure it’s handled according to your wishes.
- You have a significant other who needs to continue managing day-to-day life in your absence, like paying the mortgage or bills.
- You run a business and have passwords to critical company accounts that need to be settled or handed off should something happen.
- You have aging parents or close relatives who need assistance managing accounts and carrying out their final wishes.
- You manage your financial assets online and need to ensure someone you trust can settle your accounts.
Document Every Online Account
Getting access to and managing an account on behalf of a loved one is extremely difficult if you don’t have the right information and passwords in advance.
When you give someone power of attorney or similar authority, or when someone grants the same authority to you, immediately make an inventory of all websites and online accounts. Include the website name, web address, username, password, and any other relevant information like security questions and answers, PIN numbers or security codes, and account numbers. If you have two-factor authentication turned on for any account, be sure that’s noted, too, with instructions on how to login.
Then, make sure whoever you designate as your trusted contact knows how to find and use this digital inventory.
Don’t Forget Other Important Information
There’s more to our digital lives than usernames and passwords. Don’t forget about things like:
- Passwords to your computers
- PIN codes or passwords for your tablets and smartphones
- Voicemail PIN
- Bank PINs and account numbers
- Loyalty cards, membership numbers, and gift cards
- Medical IDs and insurance numbers
- WiFi passcodes
- Recurring subscriptions, and which payment cards they’re charged to
And countless other small details. Have these all organized in one place in your digital will, so that your loved ones know how to navigate your digital life and settle your accounts, cancel subscriptions, and carry out your final wishes.
Activate Digital Heirs Where You Can
Some websites do have processes for designating a digital heir and allowing your trusted contact to carry out your final wishes. Be sure to note in your digital will where you have turned on these features. Here are some websites where you may want to activate a digital heir:
- Google offers an Inactive Account Manager feature that lets you designate up to 10 trusted contacts to be notified if your account goes inactive, and give them access to your data (with your permission).
- Facebook lets you designate a Legacy Contact who can memorialize your page.
- Instagram allows you to memorialize an account after completing the required steps.
Unfortunately, not many web services offer an automated process for handling accounts after death, so it’s essential that your passwords are accessible to your digital heirs.
Do It All With A Password Manager
Organizing a digital will is essential, but it does take time. One way to simplify and automate the process is to use a password manager to collect all of this information in one, secure place. A password manager like LastPass safeguards all of your website accounts, and the usernames and passwords you use to access them. You can also store notes for other types of important information, and even attach documents and photos for safekeeping.
And with LastPass, you can designate an Emergency Access contact for your LastPass account. That means your trusted contact could request access to your vault should you pass or become incapacitated.
LastPass essentially acts as your digital will, and allows you to specify your digital heir, then automates the process of securely transferring that digital will with all of your passwords and important information to your trusted contact. Not only do you have the benefit of a password manager that makes it easy to remember your passwords and login to your online accounts, you can also enjoy peace of mind knowing your loved ones can access the information they need in your absence.
Prioritize Your Digital Will Today
Creating a digital will may not be your preferred way to spend a Saturday afternoon, but taking the time to do so is essential for saving your loved ones stress and unknown difficulties. By reading this article and following our tips, you and your loved ones can feel more prepared for the future. And once you have a process in place, it will be easier to maintain your digital will going forward.
This article first appeared on the LastPass blog in April 2016.