Over a year ago we talked about the importance of considering your digital assets as part of your estate plan. We explained that there can be true financial assets online including domain names, paypal accounts, online gambling accounts, iStore accounts, the list in endless. A domain name alone could potentially be worth thousands of dollars or pounds. Research estimates the value of these “cloud-based” assets to add up to £2 Billion for Brits alone.
We were not alone in recommending that people should include user accounts and passwords within their Will so that loved ones, and particularly the Executor, are able to access these accounts at the appropriate time. In this article the professional retirement planner recommends that “people should consider including internet passwords in their Wills otherwise how will friends and family be able to access and save their personal data left of numerous internet websites”
It turns out that this is the worst possible advice. One important consideration is that once a Will is probated it becomes public record. Anybody can read a Will, simply go to your local court house and request a copy. There may be a small fee involved, but once paid, an unscrupulous person can gain access to a dead person’s accounts. If the estate hasn’t been completely wound up, the assets may still be in those accounts.
It may seem a little implausible that scammers would scour through Wills looking for online account credentials, but scammers are an enterprising bunch, and it has already started. Apparently “More and more people include online banking and PayPal passwords in their last will and testament in a bid to help the executors of their estate. But crafty scammers know they can get a copy of anyone’s – apart from royalty – for just £6 from the Probate Office.”
So our advice has changed. Do not include account credentials in a Will. You can either keep them written down and store them with your Will, or if you use an online service like the one at LegalWills.ca, USLegalWills.com and LegalWills.co.uk you can take advantage of their MyMessages service that allows you to create messages to loved ones that are unlocked by keyholders after you have passed away. This is probably the most secure way of making sure that login credentials get to the right people at the right time and protecting you and your loved ones from thieves.