Estate Planning with Digital Assets: Should I Give My Passwords to My Personal Representative (PR)?
Much of our access to information is protected by passwords. In the context of estate planning and probate, passwords can lead to expensive complications and third-party subpoenas. For this reason, an important aspect of modern estate planning is planning in such a way that fiduciaries will be able to access the financial and other electronic documents belonging to a decedent.
Florida law gives personal representatives and trustees certain powers with regard to accessing certain digital assets, but such powers are useless unless the fiduciary knows the passwords to access these accounts. Your passwords should not be in your will, as a will may become may be a public document, but you may want to consider maintaining a list, including log-in and password information, for all of your digital assets (including, for example: email accounts; electronic documents; software; internet sites; online user accounts; social media accounts; and electronic content, such as music or photography collections). A viable alternative may be programs or applications that safely store passwords. Some internet browsers have built-in password storage. If you use such programs, you must ensure that your fiduciaries know the master password that will allow them to see the other passwords.
Having access to the decedent’s email account, for instance, is extremely useful to the person administering an estate. On a practical level, having access to email accounts allows personal representative to gain an entire picture of the estate. It used to be the case that a personal representative or trustee could get a good picture regarding the estate of a decedent by collecting and reviewing the decedent’s mail. However, many people now choose to receive their bank statements through email rather than through regular mail, and invoices are often only sent through email. Having access to the decedent’s email, therefore, is critical in determining the assets and the creditors of an estate.
Another advantage to having access to passwords is terminating a decedent’s digital subscription services. There are video-streaming services, cable service, cellphone service, music streaming services, services for hygiene products, meal delivery services, fashion delivery services, and countless other subscription services for which an estate is making monthly payments that nobody is using. Such services can easily be terminated online. Letters of administration can be used to terminate subscription services, but a password list would make that exercise significantly easier and faster, and save the estate time and expense.
Of course, by maintaining a list of your passwords, you risk comprising the security of these assets during your lifetime. It is important to weigh the risk of keeping all of your passcodes in one location against the ease (or difficulty) with which your personal representative and trustee will be able administer your estate and the trusts by having the benefit of a full inventory of your digital assets and the manner in which to access them. If you do keep such digital asset lists, please remember to keep the lists in a safe place and to update your log-ins and passcodes as you make updates. And, of course, your fiduciaries should be people that you trust to have this sensitive information. Those interested in learning more about estate planning or probate issues with digital assets, should not hesitate to contact the experienced attorneys, Bart Chepenik, 305-613-3548 or Brad Trushin, 305-981-8889, Chepenik Trushin LLP, who are ready, willing, and able to assist you with your estate planning, trusts guardianship and probate litigation needs.