A Calm Storm

The blog of Sholeh Samadani Munion

Internet Life After Death

In conversations with a number of friends, I have realized that while nearly all of us have multiple accounts on the internet for various reasons, very few of us have provided a way for these accounts to be accessed, maintained, or shut down in the event of our demise.

Some might say this is a morbid subject.  However, we leave wills for our physical assets, and there is no reason why we shouldn’t provide account information to our loved ones.  (If you don’t have a will…go write one!)

There are a number of types of sites that your loved ones may have to access: bank accounts, online bill-pay, utilities, email, social networking sites, your blog, photo management sites, forums, and instant messaging platforms.

This article mentions that unlocking an account after someone has died can mean having to get a court order, which can be a lengthy process.  Different companies have different ways of dealing with the death of a customer, and sometimes the family or executor of the estate will not be able to access their account.

You can handle this dilemma in a few different ways. Start by compiling all of the information you have.  Try using a spreadsheet if you are overwhelmed…but remember that digital information is easily shared, so be sure that it is secure.  Your column headings can be: website, login name, password (remember case-sensitive ones!), and “comments” (this area can be used to explain how you want this account handled after you pass away).

In the course of this process, you might discover a few websites where you have an account, but you really don’t need it…go ahead and get rid of those accounts.

One way is to have the information included with your will, and the executor will take care of these things.  Another option is to entrust your spouse, family member, or close friend to have access to those accounts.  For example…you might not want your grieving parents to have to go onto Facebook and tell your 830 “friends” that you have passed away, and so you might give that task over to a friend who would be able to take care of it.  But again, be careful who you give that information to…if you feel that they might betray your trust…perhaps you are better off leaving that information with a lawyer.

Any other ideas on other ways to solve this problem of account management?  I’m hoping that someday that the proliferation of usernames and passwords will be reduced, but for now we just have to manage with what we’ve got.


7 thoughts on “Internet Life After Death

  1. Interesting post. Haven’t thought much about the issue of postmortem account access, but you’re right, it is important.

    For a while now, I’ve been using a password manager called 1Password (http://www.1password.com/), available for Mac and iPhone/iPod Touch. There are also web-based password managers such as Clipperz (http://www.clipperz.com). These will create a secure database of all your passwords and sensitive information. You could then give a trusted individual the master key, or print out a hard copy for them.

    Some worry about the security issues associated with having everything in one place, but the convenience a password manager provides is GREAT. I can log in to anything with one keystroke, and refer to my database whenever I need to. Plus, it’s much more secure than a spreadsheet.

    Might be worth looking into.

  2. One might include this as part of a living will as well should you wish to remain living in an incapacitated state. Someone could use the accounts to post information to let others know about your situation.

    Sites who support OpenID allow us to access sites without multiple credentials. Microsoft created Passport for the same purpose. Though, I don’t think Passport went far.

  3. I think about this all the time. I haven’t come up with a good way to solve it for myself yet, though. I’ve taken the step of listing out for my wife all the accounts that would directly affect my family (bills, bank accounts, etc) but the passwords are in “code” and she hasn’t gotten the code yet. As for sites like facebook, e-mail, etc. I’m honestly not sure what to do about those…

  4. Wow, this is something I’ve never even thought of. Fortunately, I’m in pretty good shape here. My husband and I have an application called “KeePass” that tracks all this information. As long as we both don’t die at once, I’m covered.

    But now that you mention it, I’d better pass that information along to our executor!

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