Whatever else you leave in your will - don't forget your passwords

If you don’t leave your passwords, you’re leaving a nightmare for your loved ones

Dying without passing on passwords

Funeral directors have issued a stark warning: it's vital that everyone makes plans to pass on all the passwords for their accounts when they die - or they risk leaving their loved ones with a major headache.

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The average person has eight passwords: they ensure that everything from our bank account to our utility bills and even our music and photos are locked securely online. The trouble is that if we don't let our loved ones know our passwords, when we die, they will be locked out of all of it.

Judith Donovan, Chair of the Keep Me Posted campaign, says one of the great unintended consequences of online billing is that without the passwords, it becomes far harder to access accounts, which can make probate a "massive issue".

A study by Co-operative Funeral Care last year found that almost four out of five people who have tried to deal with an estate through online accounts have faced issues. Most organisations you deal with online will help once you have a death certificate, but this help may to be what you would ideally like. eBay and many email providers, for example, will not provide you with access or transfer the account: they will close it down. eBay will free up the cash, and some email providers will send you emails received and stored so far, but they will not grant ongoing access.

Other implications

If your other half is still living in your home, and you took care of all the bills, they will need the password in order to access the accounts. Without it they could be racking up debts they have no idea about.

It's not just the accounts we know about either. Without a list of everything you hold online - alongside the passwords - there's a real risk that savings accounts, pensions and investments may be overlooked altogether and lost forever.

Even sites that may not seem important can have financial implications. You may have hundreds of pounds in cashback or gambling accounts, you might have a balance on Paypal, or you may have live eBay purchases and sales - which the estate is legally liable for.

Personal items like photos and music that are stored online may also be lost forever, while social media cannot be updated, which can cause heartache and confusion for people who come across the account.

Then there are email accounts. Without access to those, you may miss vital communications from businesses, as well as family and friends.

What can you do?

The National Society of Allied and Funeral Directors is calling for people to take steps to make sure they pass on all the relevant passwords after their death. It suggests producing a list of passwords, put in a sealed envelope, and addressed to those people who will be managing your estate after you die. It's also important to list out the details of all your online accounts - to ensure that nothing is overlooked.

It may even be worth leaving a 'digital will', which spells out what you would like to happen to your online accounts - including social networking - and your emails.

Of course, once all of this is written down, it needs to be kept extremely carefully. If you don't have a safe at home, it's worth asking your solicitor to store it for you.

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