Today I was interviewed on Parent Nation about why parents should have their kids document their usernames and passcodes. Most parents have no idea they have no right to the online accounts and assets of their children. It’s one of the ways our modern world has moved faster than the law and parenting guidebooks.
It’s not just a parenting concern, but should be a spousal concern. For those of you who share an Apple account, the The Washington Post recently carried a story, Her dying husband left her the house and the car, but he forgot the Apple password. This relatively simple issue makes no practical sense, but is the reality for those of you not aware that no marital rights or power of attorney can grant you this access. The idea of digital executor is still just a theoretical practice–unless you document your usernames and passcodes for the one who will step in and help or settle your affairs.
I think it’s so important, I have been giving away the chapter on “Taming the Internet” from MemoryBanc: Your Workbook for Organizing Life. This chapter gives you free forms to help you take control of your online assets, as well as share the worksheets with loved ones who can document their accounts and put them in a sealed envelope you hope you never need to open. I keep mine by my computer and frequently rely on them to help me access the more than 80 accounts I have. Every quarter, I give back the envelopes to my family to update and return to me.
I never expected to learn so much during this phase of my life, but the least I can do is share it with others in hopes that it will save you time, effort, and grief. Delivered.
The typical web user has 25 online accounts, ranging from social media to online banking (according to a 2007 study from Microsoft). Did you know that most include a clause that makes your assets non-transferable upon death and many will force account deactivation?
Even if the rights are given to you in a Will or Durable Power of Attorney (POA), using them can be difficult. As I found when I tried to act on my parents behalf when they were both alive — you may have the right by law and on paper — but that doesn’t make the vendor accept that you have the legal right. After several financial firms told me they wouldn’t accept the POA my parents completed in 2002 (if was over two or five years old which was their requirement), we ended up drafting a new one. Most lawyers will tell you they don’t go stale — but I didn’t have the time to pursue a legal battle with banks — thankfully — I found out before it was too late for my parents to sign a new POA.
I learned that having the paper with the rights isn’t as easy to use as you are lead to believe. Even if you are named the “digital executor” it won’t guarantee you have the power to bestow access to your loved ones.
You have the power to make this a simple matter. Write down your usernames and passcodes and put them in a place your loved one could find if they need to use it. One way to document this information is in a MemoryBanc Register. Experienced.
Two current news stories on this topic can be found here: