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By:  Al Young

I recently probated the estate of a young man who died unexpectedly. John was tech-savvy, paid all of his bills online, and received all of his bank statements and investment account statements electronically. John was single, so he named his mother Gail as personal representative in his will. (All names have been changed to protect identity.)

One of the first questions I asked Gail was, “What did John own at the time of his death?” Gail replied, “It is all on John’s computer, but I can’t get in.” No one knew the password to log on to John’s computer. No one knew John’s user names and passwords to access his bank accounts and investment accounts online, either. We were stymied.

I expect that this will happen more often as we grow more comfortable banking and investing online, and go green by selecting paperless delivery of our documents. Worsening the predicament, we have been told not to write down usernames and passwords for fear that the information would fall into the wrong hands. So what should you do?

One option is to create two documents. One document should be a list of usernames for each login or account. The second should be a list of the related passwords. The documents should be printed and kept in separate files in the home or given to different family members. A safe deposit box could serve as a secure location. Another alternative is to save the information to a USB flash drive and then keep the flash drive in a safe deposit box or other secure location.

Whatever procedure you use, keep your information up to date. Also, be sure to tell a trusted family member or advisor where to find this critical information so that it can be accessed when needed. Planning ahead now will save time and money and avoid unnecessary stress for your loved ones.


Al Young is a shareholder with the law firm of Fox, O’Neill & Shannon, S.C. in Milwaukee, WI. He concentrates his practice on estate planning, tax and business law. Al can be reached at 414-273-3939 or atyoung@foslaw.com


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