Set Up a Posthumous Password Contingency Plan

By Jason Fitzpatrick on August 11th, 2011

If you dropped dead today, how big of a pain would it be for your family/estate to access your computer and virtual accounts? Make a plan to ensure your digital life isn’t a headache for them.

The Wall Street Journal turns its eye towards a topic most of us don’t like to spend much time thinking about, death. Specifically the stress and hassle it can cause your family and estate executors if they can’t access any of the digital accounts and computers you left behind:

Leon LaBrecque, a certified financial planner in Troy, Mich., says he has encountered the problem with a number of clients, including one who also was a friend who died of cancer. Mr. LaBrecque’s friend had told him that his financial records were on his computer, but when the planner asked the client’s wife for his password, she didn’t know it.

“I looked at the dog sitting in the chair next to the computer, and typed in his name, Pepper. It worked, but I’ve been in other situations where we’ve had to hire a computer programmer to get into a hard drive,” Mr. LaBrecque says.

He is encouraging clients to fill out a free form that includes user names and passwords to online accounts. The form, technically called a “testamentary letter” or “letter of final instruction,” isn’t a formal legal document but can help your family navigate your assets—including those on the Internet. You can see it at ljpr.com.

While keeping a paper list may not be practical for people who have many accounts and update the passwords frequently, the point is taken. The last thing your family wants to do deal with after your death is the inability to access important records, pay bills online, and access investment portfolios and other assets because they don’t know important passwords. Whether you keep a paper notebook or you write down your LastPass password on an index card in your family safe, setting up some sort of posthumous password contingency plan will make life easier on everyone.

PINs That Needle Families [The Wall Street Journal via Free Money Finance]

Jason Fitzpatrick is a warranty-voiding DIYer who spends his days cracking opening cases and wrestling with code so you don't have to. If it can be modded, optimized, repurposed, or torn apart for fun he's interested (and probably already at the workbench taking it apart). You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 08/11/11
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