The Complications of All Mobile Phone Family Plans

My son’s phone died. Of course my husband is traveling and my son is leaving for an overnight trip. I’m not used to the idea of him leaving without a phone. I can’t text him “nite-nite” and I can’t see where he is on the “find my iPhone app.” I really want him to have that phone before he goes.

Our mobile plan is all organized under my husband’s account. When I show up at BestBuy, I can get in with his social security number and validation of my phone account, but for this matter, we really need to login to the portal to understand our upgrade options. Right now I’m being told I will have to pay a $200 penalty on top of the new phone fee. That’s unacceptable.

For those families like mine where you divide and conquer accounts, bill pay, and household services, check out this free solution that captures usernames and passcodes. I know that the usage terms don’t allow for sharing, but I’m going to make sure that my family can get what we need when we need it. For that reason, I created a simple solution for sharing our online information so that a loved one could get what they needed in the event that either my husband or myself are traveling.

My solution is actually a chapter in the best seller MemoryBanc: Your Workbook for Organizing Life. To download the free chapter called “Taming the Internet” visit

What happens to your digital footprint when you die?

facebookThe owner(s) of the online site(s) you accepted the “terms and conditions” to before getting access dictate your digital rights on their service. Our world moved faster than the laws and after years of frustration, many of the online giants are starting to do more to address the issue of digital asset rights for their users. Google created an “Inactive Account Manager” but it is only a very broad safety net. The shortest term for inactivity is 3 months.

Given that more people face a crisis or permanent disability before they die, the only way to ensure your loved ones have access to help you is to hand over a list of your usernames and passcodes. For a free tool to better understand and document you information, you can download a copy of “Taming the Internet: Keeping Track of Online Passcodes.” 

According to Slate, Facebook is rolling out an option that lets users choose to have their account wiped out upon death. The other option is to designate a hand-selected “legacy contact.”

I’m glad Facebook has done something, however, since 7 out of 10 Americans that turn 65 will need 3 years of care before they die, we must recognize that someone needs to be able to assist us long before we leave this planet and this isn’t just an issue for older americans. At the age of 40 nearly half of Americans will face a disability lasting 90-days; are you prepared to let a loved one step in and help you when you need it?

I encourage you to set up a system to be able to share the digital keys to your estate, should someone need to act on your behalf, if even only temporarily.


Don’t put all of your usernames and pass codes in one place?

numberslistLast night I met up with colleagues from a job I had at the Software Publishers Association (now called the Software & Information Industry Association). Most of us worked technology jobs in our careers and one of my colleagues wanted to know what I thought about the “security experts” telling us to never put all of our pass codes in one place. I recently posted a blog on why it’s important and teach classes encouraging people to put this information in one place.

It’s easy for the IT guy or the security expert to tell us to not have them in one place. However, I’m not sure this is practical in the realm that I focus. In your home and your personal life, the likelihood that someone would break in and steal your usernames and pass codes is very, very, very low. The biggest risk you have is that a family member would use them to steal or snoop on you. If you have that possibility, then you might want to keep the list locked up or hide them and tell only those individuals you would trust to step in and use the information if you ever needed their help.

In your personal life, there is no IT support that can access your email and give access to someone else if something should happen to you. The Terms and Conditions of the user agreements you accepted preclude the ability of others, even with a “Digital Durable Power of Attorney” from accessing those accounts.  Google launched an “inactive account manager” that lets you set up notification and access for others if your account hasn’t been used in three months, however, that is a long time to wait for access if you need to reset a bill pay pass code. 

I stand by my recommendation. Having walked in the shoes of the person that stepped in to help when a loved one was unable to manage their own affairs, I hope you will consider documenting your usernames and pass codes — and ask everyone in your household to do the same. Convinced. 

This is a topic that is near and dear to me. Related stories include:

The Digital Keys to your Estate

The Dirty Remnants of your Digital Footprint

There is no Federal Legislation Governing Digital Assets

What’s in that Online User Agreement You Accepted?

I-agreeMost of us click the box and don’t think twice about what’s in “Terms of Use Agreement” when we check the box to “Accept”.

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:

What Happens to your digital life after death? (12/2/2013) Pew Research Center

What Happens to Digital Assets when you Die? (12/2/2013) Grand Rapids Business Journal 

The Dirty Remants of your Digital Footprint

digital printLast month, Google announced the provision for an inactive account manager. This offers a reasonable solution to the standard online user agreements that only allow one user and lock your account after inactivity. Bravo to Google who is the first to address this under-served need.

This is a larger issue for all of us and I will guess you may not have realized how this impacts your day-to-day life. It’s one of the biggest pain points my clients have faced when a loved one is incapacitated — if even only temporarily. But on a daily basis I speak with individuals who were unaware of how those user agreements might impact your digital account access.

Most couples are totally unaware that the two log-ins you use to access your joint bank account are really two separate accounts. For instance, did you know that any bill pay items set up under your username are not available or viewable to the person you share the account with?  This can create big headaches for families if there is a temporary crisis and you don’t know what electronic bills are already scheduled.

The proliferation of online accounts and a way to share or transfer these digital assets should be a growing concern to all bloggers and active online users. I previously posted a story on Who Controls your Digital Legacy from The New York Times. This story highlights the loss family members feel when they are locked out of a loved ones online life and how most of the user agreements you accepted have no solution for managing this issue.  Google is the first to set up a solution for the transfer of the information if the user chooses after inactivity.

In short, most “user agreements” only allow you to use the account you have created and your rights to that account are gone when you are unable to access them. I have faced the frustration that this limited user agreement offers and hope you will consider:

  1. Sharing usernames and passcodes to joint financial accounts. My husband and I share one online access account so we can both see the same information and bill payments. 
  2. Writing down and telling someone where you have put the information for your primary online accounts. This will allow your loved ones to easily manage a password reset to get into the account if needed.
  3. Noting which accounts are linked to credit cards. Last month, I left my business credit card at a restaurant and it was destroyed. When I got my new card, I could easily update my online accounts that used this card to pay for services without any interruption.

The Internet and mobile services we now have deliver many conveniences — however, it’s also created tentacles to our lives digitally that most are struggling to manage for themselves.

If you need any help in getting this information organized, consider getting the MemoryBanc Register which prompts you though the collection of this key information. If you would like to pull this together yourself, you can also download a free guide to help you collect the key information and accounts from our home page. Prepared.