The widow sat beside me in my conference room sharing what she was going through with the very unexpected and sudden death of her husband and father of her children earlier in the month. It was hard, but she was doing amazingly well.
Her husband, as she related, sounded like a great guy, well liked by the community and adored by the kids. A hard working small business owner, he did it all as an army of one. He provided the services, kept the records, did the taxes and paid the bills both for the business and the household. Having his own business meant hard work, but a decent income and the flexibility to take the kids to school, pick them up and be involved in their lives. She told me he even was the one in the family who usually cooked the dinner for the family so she didn’t have to after she finished her job.
Unfortunately, with his death, key bits of knowledge about his business, their finances and how to access this information also died. While she had a key to open the door of his business, she did not have the key to access the vital information she needed to understand the family’s situation, take care of the business or even to pay the bills. She did not have the password to his computer or the passwords to his computer, online accounts, customer lists or banking information.
While I discussed with her some computer technicians that might be able to help retrieve information and other strategies for obtaining the missing information, we both realized how helpful it would have been if this information had been shared with her before his death. He was a loving husband and father. He would have wanted her to have it to help her with the major challenge she was now facing. It was just something he never really expected would happen to them.
This true story illustrates how important it is that you have a means for allowing your loved ones access to your computer and online accounts if something ever happened to you. However, sharing that information must be done in a manner that is safe and secure and protects you from getting in the wrong hands.
Personally, I have a password protected document that lists all my online accounts, logins and passwords. My wife and two of my adult children have been told how to log into my computer and have been told the password to this document. There are secure online apps and services that store the same information. Some of my clients make a list of this information and we store a hard copy with their original documents in the vault we maintain at a nearby bank. The problem with that approach is passwords, logins and even accounts change frequently and any hard copy of the information has not only the need to be kept secure and private, it must also be updated whenever changes are made. Whichever way you decide to do it, make sure your spouse or executor know how to securely access your digital and online information if something unexpectedly happens to you.
None of us expect to die…. now. Providing safe and secure access to the information they will need to carry on is a loving and responsible thing to do as part of your estate planning.