Halloween might be just around the corner, but there’s something scarier to think about than ghosts and goblins – what happens online after you’re gone?
Many of your online accounts – from automatic bill payments to eBay – may remain active after you pass away, unless you take steps to ensure they don’t, says attorney Hillel Presser, author of the revised edition of “Financial Self-Defense” http://www.assetprotectionattorneys.com.
Automatic bill pay, for example, can theoretically keep tapping your bank account long after you’re gone or, at least, until your money is.
“You may ask, ‘Why would I care if I’m gone?’ I can tell you from experience: because it can create real headaches, and more heartache, for your family. The problem is, even if you provide a family member with all of your accounts, log-ins and passwords, they may not be legally allowed to access them,” Presser says. “In many cases, they may be violating the accounts’ terms of service or violating federal privacy and computer fraud laws.”
So what CAN you do to ensure your family isn’t left with a virtual nightmare after your passing? Presser offers these tips:
• Create a list of all of your accounts, including log-in-names, passwords, and answers to any security questions. Obviously, your list will need to be securely stored. Since you’ll need to update it regularly as you add accounts or change passwords, it will be easiest if you keep the list on your computer in a password-protected folder. Some versions of Windows allow you to create protected folders, but you may need to get third-party software to do this, such as freeAxCrypt. Remember to create a backup of your list, whether it’s on a jump drive or printed out on paper. Store the backup in a secure place such as a safe deposit box. Do not put password information in your will, which is a public document.
• If you have a Google account, set up the new inactive account manager. In May 2013, Google became the first site to give users an option for choosing what becomes of their content if they should become debilitated or die. Under the profile button, click “Account,” scroll down to “Account Management,” and you’ll find instructions for “Control what happens to your account when you stop using Google.” You can select how long the account should be inactive before your plans are set into motion; choose to whom you want to offer content, such as YouTube videos, Gmail, Google+ posts, Blogger and Picasa web albums, or whether it should simply be deleted.
• Appoint a digital executor. Perhaps the simplest way to ensure your online life is taken care of is to appoint a digital executor – a tech-savvy person who will be willing and able to carry out your wishes. Authorize the person to access your inventory of log-in information and spell out what you want done with each account, whether it’s providing access to loved ones or business partners, or deleting it.
The digital world has grown and transformed so rapidly, the law hasn’t kept up, which makes managing your digital afterlife challenging, Presser says.