The other day, I was visiting with an old friend whose husband had died a year ago. She was expressing her frustration with several companies about the challenges they presented as she attempted to access, modify, or close her spouse’s accounts. While the couple’s will clearly named her as a beneficiary and executor of his estate, my friend’s attempts at accessing online resources and editing automatic payments ran into problems.
Globally, our online presence and daily use of digital resources is staggering. More than half of Americans do some or most of their banking online. More than 80 percent of Americans have a social media account, and recent data suggests nearly 3 billion people will be engaged in social media worldwide by 2020. Most of us consume our entertainment and news via “new media” and you see regular reminders of how traditional businesses either change with the times or face extinction.
But how do we prepare for the inevitable and ensure our loved ones can manage the digital part of our lives when we’re gone? Here are few suggestions as you look ahead.
Closing or Modifying an Account
Most companies have simple policies on closing or modifying ownership of an online account when the original account owner is deceased. Usually, you simply need to produce a death certificate – copies of which can be obtain from either the funeral home or the county and state where the loved one passed away. (Look online for the right form; there’s usually a nominal fee for getting a copy.)
But some companies have presented challenges. Initially, Facebook required additional confirmation that an individual had died, and that process was frustrating and time-consuming. It became a macabre joke, wherein extended family or old friends would seemingly “reach from beyond” as “People You Might Know” suggestions.
Facebook has since revised its policies and offers a clear-cut path on resolving the issue. They even have a policy for someone who has become medically incapacitated. A better solution to this problem may be making sure key family members or trusted friends have access to your password should you no longer be able to give it.
Managing Those Passwords
Speaking of passwords, how many of us have more than a dozen online accounts these days? More than two dozen? Potentially, that’s a different password for each account (ideally) and a lot of work to keep those updated and in a safe, secure place.
Let’s start with what NOT to do. It’s a bad idea to use the same password for each account: if one account gets hacked, then the rest of your accounts are at risk. It’s a bad idea to store those passwords on a piece of paper on your desk under your keyboard or taped to the monitor. Also, avoid saving them in a folder or spreadsheet file on your desktop called “Passwords” or in an unencrypted notes file or email you have sent to yourself.
There are a bevy of secure “data banks” online these days – sites that will keep your information safe for a small monthly or annual fee. Sites like Passwordwallet.com or Lastpass.com are useful and can save you and your loved ones a lot of trouble down the line. Creating a repository for all online account login and passwords that works as simply as taking cash from an ATM is a great way to avoid future headaches.
Dealing with Offline Accounts
In some cases, more than a simple death certificate or password is needed. When dealing with assets of an estate, especially a bank account, you may need to request from a court a letter of testamentary and open probate or administration proceedings. Here, you’ll need more than a piece of paper – you may want to hire an attorney who is board-certified and can assist in collecting the appropriate evidence a judge will need to review to make the desired ruling.
At The Parvin Law Group, P.C., our attorneys assist our clients on just these matters and have years of experience. Whether it is representing your interests in court or finalizing your estate plan to include instructions on your digital assets, we’re motivate to make the most of your time and investment in your future. Call us at (214) 974-8940 or click the “Book an Appointment” link at the top of this page to schedule a free consultation.
Everyone wants their legacy to live forever; there are dozens of companies and nonprofits who promise to make sure the details of your life stay online into perpetuity. But your family should be able to have better control over that digital life and be able to make decision you no longer can. Benjamin Franklin once said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” So, don’t fail your loved ones when it comes to those online accounts: take the right steps to make sure everyone is prepared.
ATTORNEY CHRIS PARVIN is Board Certified in Estate Planning & Probate Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. Mr. Parvin is the Managing Partner of the Dallas, Texas law firm of Parvin Law Group, P.C. and serves as an Adjunct Professor of Law at Texas A&M University School of Law. Mr. Parvin can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Parvin Law Group, P.C. is a Concierge Law Firm in Dallas, Texas with attorneys practicing law in the fields of Estate Planning, Probate, and Business Law.