Ask LH: Should I Leave A 'Password Will' For My Loved Ones?

Dear Lifehacker, I nearly became road kill on the weekend when a bus zoomed past me while I was crossing the road. This close brush with death got me thinking: should I make a will containing all my digital passwords? My loved ones will obviously need to access my bank account if I die uexpedtedly. They might also want to look over my emails, social media accounts and other online services I subscribe to. Do you recommend this, and if so, what's the safest way to go about it? Thanks, Splattered Password Angel

Password image via Shutterstock

Dear SPA,

Your immediate family members shouldn't run into too much trouble when dealing with banks. Financial institutions have special policies in place to make the transferal of funds relatively painless.

Generally, the nominated family member will need to show the bank a certified copy of the Death Certificate along with the will or a letter of administration granted by the Supreme Court. Once the bank has taken any money it is owed, the account will be closed and the remaining funds released to the family member in question.

In other words, there's no need for your family to access your online bank account after you die. In fact, this could potentially land them in trouble if the will is contested by another family member or there are unpaid debts owed to the bank.

Commercial online services can be trickier. Some companies, including Facebook, have dedicated procedures for deceased person's accounts. However, most do not provide login information under any circumstances which makes transferring ownership exceedingly difficult. Naturally, if the service in question has no customer support in Australia, the process becomes even harder.

One option is to sign up to LastPass' "Emergency Access" feature. As its name implies, this gives nominated users the ability to unlock your password manager during select emergencies, including your death. They'll then have instant access to all the passwords and logins they need to manage your accounts. You can read more on how this feature works here.

Of course, storing all your passwords in the cloud presents it's own risks, but provided you have two-factor authentication enabled (and your family has access to your phone) it should be a pretty foolproof system. The alternative is to store your handwritten passwords in a safe — just make sure it's a good one.

We also want to hear from readers on this. If you have any recommendations or solutions to this very modern problem, let SPA know in the comments section below.

Cheers Lifehacker

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Comments

    I've given this some consideration. Especially as I use 2FA wherever I can. However, as that's largely done by phone app or SMS a relative would need to a) know about it and b) be able to unlock my phone.
    Gets messier when considering that my backup email account is also 2FA protected.
    Some services (Google, off the top of my head) allow a set of backup codes to be printed out. So I do.
    That printout goes with a quarterly-updated print out from my password manager of choice into a place my loved one knows about. Together with support documentation for my home network so a tech-savvy friend can pick it apart and make sure local copies of family photos etc are accessible and that their offsite backups are available too.
    In short, I'd break down my views as:
    1) Yes, I'm in favour of leaving my loved one a list of my passwords, just to make sorting all the cack out an option if there's issues going through the service providers own processes (I'm happy for her to cancel the fruit and veg delivery herself without having to show my grocer a death certificate).
    2) Your loved one must know you've left a list of passwords, and where it is.
    2) They must understand your setup (hence leaving documentation).
    3) Use 2FA wherever possible, but think about how someone else may need to access it in event of your death.

    For most people you're only going to need the password for their email account, and then chances are you can reset the passwords on all their social media accounts etc.

    I had to go through this process for a deceased relative *without a password* but she had a set of password reset questions which were so easy to answer that it took less than three minutes to get a new one.

    This might be what you're after: https://www.deadmansswitch.net/ or http://emailfromdeath.com/

    Last edited 26/05/16 4:48 pm

    We actually went through this a few years ago when my father in law suddenly and unexpectedly passed away from a clot in his lung. He just collapsed one night after a normal day at work and was pronounced dead a couple of hours later. It was a real shock to everyone.

    He didn't tell anyone his passwords, which made our job of trying to contact everyone that needed to know a heck of a lot harder than it needed to be. I managed to hack into his PC after a couple of days of working at it so we could get access to his emails and contact some people that way, but his phone had a passcode on it and that's where he had most of his important contacts stored. I don't think we ever managed to get into his phone specifically but I think I managed to get his contacts out of it once I had access to his PC, by syncing the phone with his user account on his PC.

    Trying to remove all of his social media accounts and accounts on other various websites and services he used was also a pain.

    So to answer the question, from the point of view of someone that's actually needed to go through it - yes, you need to have your passwords somewhere, or give them to someone you trust. In the event of your death, especially if it's sudden an unexpected like being hit by a bus, your loved ones are going to have a much harder time if they can't even access your phone.

    Last edited 26/05/16 11:47 pm

    Yes, yes you should, unless of course it is going to cause heartbreak for your loved ones. like secret email address used for being a cheating douche, or pornhub accounts causing your loved ones to question whether you ever truly found them satisfying.

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