Why a Password Manager for Estate Planning?

Password managers aren’t just for security and privacy, they can also be useful for digital estate planning. This entry takes us through how to consider setting up “password vault” access in case of emergency and incapacitation. The previous entry went over what a password vault is. This entry covers why a password vault is useful for estate planning. The next will cover how to set up a password manager with estate planning in mind, and the final entry will offer a checklist with extra credit.

We do a lot in digital space these days – manage our bills and banking; socialize, share adventures, get tickets to a show; and store our emails, photos, and videos. All of these actions require accounts (usernames and passwords). Some people use what are called “password managers” to keep track of all those accounts and the associated passwords. There are many resources on how useful password managers are regarding security and privacy which we encourage you to check out if interested (1, 2, 3). But here we’re talking about estate planning. This entry isn’t about just privacy – but how you share to others when appropriate.

While you see friends and family if you were doing these social and business transactions in the physical world, your online accounts are invisible and inaccessible. While a friend or family member often sees you on a social platform (like Mastodon or Facebook), or has seen your bank name on your screen over your shoulder or on your card at a shared meal, they are unlikely to have access to those accounts, just as they are unlikely to have access to your bank account because they walked into a branch with you one time. That’s the main point of having a password – so your accounts are your accounts.

The password vault maintained by a password manager is a record of your accounts and how to access them. This is valuable for your daily life, and is also a valuable asset for fiduciaries. By carefully choosing to whom and how you share a way to access your password vault, you make your digital life visible and accessible – just like your photo albums and china plates.

Using a password manager can make your accounts visible and accessible not just to you, but also to those you care about when they are closing bank accounts, searching for photos of that one day at the park, and notifying your online hobby group of your passing. The trick is letting the right people know, and limiting their access only until they need that access. The next blog entry will cover how to consider setting up your digital estate with a password manager, and who to involve in the process.