Online Passwords: Who will log-in when you cannot?


Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /

By Kimberly Napolitano

Passwords are tricky beasts.  Given the proliferation of password requirements to do anything from sell stock to buy movie tickets to see your friend’s vacation photos, we are all inundated with passwords.  Some require a number, some a symbol, some a capital letter.  It’s nearly impossible to remember the perfect combination of username and password.  And even when I click the dreaded “Forgot Password?,” I cannot always remember which email address I used to open the account.  And since my mother’s maiden name is known to any teenage hacker, I have to remember something obscure like the name of the street just north of the street I grew up on or my best friend’s (which one!?!) favorite food.  Put simply: it’s a nightmare.

A more serious concern arises when someone needs to access your accounts when you cannot.  From an estate planning perspective, this is the worst nightmare of all.

What you can do:

  • Dreaded E-Statements.  Honestly, you can be my parent, child or my best friend and I would never know what accounts you may own if you don’t get a statement or print out your emailed statement.  At a minimum, keep a list of the institutions in which you have accounts so that those that are taking care of your affairs have a place to start.  It’s your money.  Help us find it.
  • Emailed Invoices.  Same goes for the utility bills, your child’s tuition payments, and in some cases even a large bill like your mortgage may be paid without their being a trace of the bill in your filing cabinet (even those of us with a well-organized filing cabinet may be missing critical documents).  Again, a simple list of the companies you pay on emailed invoices would be enormously helpful.  At least we’ll know to call Netflix and just pay for those movies you’ve had since last March and stop the monthly payments.
  • Online Photos, Facebook and Other Digital Assets.  The law in this area is far from clear, but suffice it to say that if you have data online that you need someone else to be able to access, you need to take action.  Maybe this blog will go nuts and my children will live on the advertising dollars when I’m gone.  Or maybe I’ll become a renowned photographer and my early works will become treasured assets.  Or maybe those taking care of my affairs will just want to close my Facebook account.  Currently, the best bet would be to leave a list of these types of accounts and instructions as to what should be done with these accounts.  An attorney can also assist you in preparing a General Assignment and list these types of assets as transferring to your Trust in hopes that the law will allow those who manage your Trust to take control of these assets – but in a changing digital world, there are no guarantees.
  • Consider keeping a running list of your passwords.  You may find that keeping a list of passwords available for the Trustee of your Trust and/or Agent under your Power of Attorney gives you the assurance that the designated person can access the accounts on your behalf.  Now the big question: where to keep the list?  This is something you should work out with the person that needs access to the information and can include placing a flash drive in your safe deposit box or in-home safe which can be accessed through the powers given in your estate planning documents in the event of an emergency.
  • Keep your list fresh.  Set a reminder in your Outlook calendar, add it to your to-do list, or tie a ribbon on your index finger, but do NOT let this list get stale.  As a whole, we are moving money around more quickly than ever before and need to make sure that our lists of our accounts and debts stay current.  In addition, those pesky passwords are required to be changed more and more often making our own ability, much less someone else’s, even more difficult.  Update, update, update.

Have a suggestion?  Post a comment if you have a suggestion on how to deal with the password conundrum.  You can check back for updates, that is: unless we start password protecting this blog…

Kimberly Napolitano, concentrates on the representation of individuals and families in all aspects of estate planning, business succession, asset protection, and the reduction of tax burdens. To learn more about Kimberly or for further questions visit our website

Always consult an attorney in your area.
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