Have you thought about what will happen to all of your online accounts when you die?
So much of what we do both financially and socially happens online these days. It’s important to think about everything from what our social media legacies will be to who will need access to our banking and investment account information when we pass away.
In this article, we’ll share why it’s important to have a plan for your digital life when you pass away and what money expert Clark Howard says is the best way to prepare.
Plan Now for What Will Happen to Your Digital Accounts When You Pass Away
Longtime fans of Clark know that he has always stressed how important it is to plan for the eventuality of death, especially by creating a will. But what happens to all of the accounts and activities you interact with online but not necessarily in the physical world?
“It’s still a work in process,” Clark says. “This is a hard one. We think about making sure we take care of our physical affairs when we’re gone, but now it’s equally important to know who is going to have access to your digital life. There are many strategies, but none are perfect right now.”
So creating a plan for who will have access to your digital accounts — and how — is largely a matter of preference, but we do have some options for you to consider.
Inventory Your Digital Accounts
The first thing you should do is to make sure you have a complete list of all of your digital accounts that someone else may need to access when you die, including instructions on how to access them. This list should include all of your financial activities such as bank, investment, loan and insurance accounts. If you’re active on social media, you’ll probably want to include those accounts as well. And don’t forget about email!
You can make your list on a physical piece of paper or keep it in a file on your computer.
“Some people just have a file with their usernames and passwords for different sites that they have hidden somewhere,” Clark says, “And you hope that the person who finds it is who you want to find it.”
It’s important to make sure that whoever you want to have access to your accounts knows where the list is and is able to access it. This may involve one password for accessing your computer and several others for the accounts.
Some people recommend keeping separate lists of your accounts, your usernames and your passwords. While this is undoubtedly safer, it’s also more complicated and increases the chances that something will be lost and the whole system will break down. Again, this is a personal preference.
You also need to remember to update the list in case you change any of your existing passwords or if you add any new accounts.
Another Option for Giving Access to Multiple Accounts: Password Managers
If you have a lot of online accounts, using a password manager is a great way to keep the login information for all of them in a central location. Password managers help you create strong passwords for each of your accounts, and you can access them in moments. These tools can also simplify things greatly for your loved ones when you pass away.
Some of the most popular and recommended free password managers include:
It’s important to note that while password managers are a legitimate way to store passwords, they are not immune to hacks.
“The password manager thing has always been hard for me to talk about because there’s always the chance that they’ll get hacked into,” warns Clark.
Site-Specific Solutions for Sharing Account Access
Some sites have specific mechanisms for ensuring that someone (or multiple people) of your choosing can access your accounts in the event of your death.
“Many websites now have procedures where you can essentially name an heir to your information on the site,” Clark says. “It’s a case where websites are going to have to come up with a procedure so that someone can have access to these bank accounts, brokerage accounts or whatever.”
While it is not a widespread practice yet, two of the biggest sites on the internet, Google and Facebook, do have a way to set up contingency plans for a user’s death.
Google Inactive Account Manager
Google says Inactive Account Manager is a way to “Take control of what happens to your Google Account if you’re unexpectedly unable to use your Google Account, such as in the event of an accident or death.” You are able to decide which data gets saved and designate the people who can have access to it — or have your account deleted entirely.
“I activated my Inactive Account Manager and designated a couple of trusted individuals who have access to all my Google activities,” Clark says. “I set mine for 90 days. After 90 days of no activity on my accounts, my designees will get all my information to access everything I have on Google.”
To set up Inactive Account Manager:
- Visit this link.
- Click “Start.”
- Add your contact information.
- Choose up to 10 people to be notified if your account becomes inactive.
- Decide whether or not you want your account to be deleted.
- Confirm your plan.
Facebook Legacy Contacts
Facebook allows its users to designate what it calls a “legacy contact.” This is someone who can take certain actions on your account after you pass away and your account has been “memorialized.”
According to Facebook, those actions include:
- Writing a pinned post for the memorialized profile
- Responding to new friend requests (ex: old friends or family members who weren’t yet on Facebook)
- Updating the profile picture and cover photo
Legacy contacts cannot:
- Log into the memorialized account
- Remove or change past posts, photos and other things shared on the Timeline
- Read messages sent to other friends
- Remove any friends
You can select your legacy contact by:
- Logging into your Facebook account
- Going to “Settings”
- Clicking on “Memorialization Settings”
- Typing in the name of the friend you want to be your contact
Consider Including Online Account Instructions in Your Will
Finally, if you really want to formalize who gets control over your online accounts when you die, you can include those instructions as part of your will. You can even name a “digital executor” who is separate from the general executor of the will. This should be a person who you trust has access to your account names and login information.
Important note: If you do decide to go this route, be sure that sensitive information like your usernames and passwords are not included in the will itself. Once the will is filed in probate court, that information becomes public record.
Since we never know when we will die, following the steps above is a great way to make sure loved ones will be able to handle our business for us when we are no longer able to do it. By taking a little time to get your digital affairs in order now, you can save them a lot of trouble when you’re no longer around.