This is a continuation of last week’s discussion of virtual legacies. There was once a time that people could easily recall the phone numbers and addresses of all family members and most of their friends. We kept this information in Rolodexes or address books. Today, things have changed quite a bit. Most of us can hardly recall one or two phone numbers. Many people have a hard time remembering their own spouse’s number. After all, these telephone numbers are stored in our cellular phones and often backed up to the Cloud. E-mail addresses have become the new address, and we don’t need a book or Rolodex, because these are also securely saved in our e-mail server and often backed up to the Cloud as well. We do, however, have hundreds of user names and passwords to remember.
So how on earth would our heirs be able to access our many accounts to easily print bank statements, remove information about us, or obtain records for accountants, attorneys, funeral directors, and other people handling our final affairs. Consider all of the sites and access accounts that would simply be left unattended out their in the drift upon death.
Try this exercise
Sit down with a pen and some paper. Now try to think of every account, membership or website to which you have access. At first, just try to recall them all. You will later want to see if you can recall each username and password. If you are like most Americans, you likely have more usernames and passwords than you even know. One study suggests that 30% of Americans have more than 10 accounts to access. But this seems drastically underestimated. Here are a few reminders to help you get started:
• E-mail Accounts: Include work, personal, that junk e-mail address used for coupons.
• Online Banking Accounts: Include brokerage accounts, 529 funds, and anything else that is used to manage money.
• Social Media Accounts: This includes Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Tumblr, etc.
• Professional Sites: Consider bar associations, licensing authorities, certification agencies, government sites, and any other access used to maintain your professional credentials. Don’t forget to include sites that offer continuing education.
• Work-related Sites • Dating Sites: Don’t forget to count them.
• School Sites: Many school systems now allow parents access to grades.
• Merchant Accounts: eBay, Amazon.com, Pintrist, Groupon, Yelp, and PayPal.
• Apple ID’s and Cloud Accounts • Credit Card Companies • Utility Companies • Student Loans • Charity Organizations • Church Groups • Cell Phone Companies • Insurance Companies: Life, Health, Auto • Vehicle Payment Sites • Even Netflix and Frequent Flier Accounts
What to do with this data
As you can see, Americans have a lot of accounts to manage. Some people even choose to create a master password system to allow them unified login ability. But this comes with certain drawbacks. Others actually write down all the usernames and passwords and try to put it in a secure place or in a secured, locked Word document. Whatever the case, 10 accounts seems low given the wide range of accounts that Americans have access to and use regularly.
Once you’ve accumulated all the data, you should write this down and include a brief letter of instruction to the personal representative you chose in your will (or the trustee of your trust). In this letter, you will want to instruct that person to either close or manage the accounts. You may want to close all but a few. You may want to establish legacy accounts on social media. Or perhaps you will want an heir to take over a brokerage account. It is much easier if they already have access without having to make dozens of phone calls to tech support.
Ultimately, your legacy now includes a lot more than it used to. Even things we never think of, like our AAA account, have some form of membership login that could make it easier for heirs to pass on benefits or obtain cash rewards or simply clean up affairs after we pass away.