Develop a Backup Plan for Managing Online Accounts

Paying bills and balancing the family checkbook with a bank’s online software program saves time, but few people plan for handling the accounts if there is an unexpected illness or even a death in the family.

Typically, one person in the household takes responsibility for paying the bills online or managing the online banking account. However, if something happens to that person, the whole family’s finances can be in jeopardy.

Many online banking accounts are tied to a person’s e-mail address and specific username and password that the user created. Usually there are security questions the bank uses to verify that the correct person is accessing the bank account.

For example, consider a wife who pays all of the bills online and transfers money between savings and checking to cover the expenses. Her husband has no idea how to find the bank’s website, let alone what the username and password are.

If something happens to the wife, the husband will face an uphill battle accessing the information, especially if he doesn’t know the username and password to log onto the account and he cannot answer the security questions.

Even when the surviving spouse has a legal right to access the account, proper documentation likely will be required, such as death certificate.

Another common online activity that many people do not think about is photo storage. Many people upload family photos to websites, such as Wal-Mart, Walgreens, Kodak and Shutterfly. Users may not realize that pictures can be lost to their family forever if their next-of-kin cannot access the account through the username and password option or the e-mail reset option.

Treat online passwords as family heirlooms
It is extremely important that online passwords be treated in the same manner as family heirlooms. Consider listing the username/password combinations in a legal document or placing them on file with the family financial planner. Or, consider giving a trusted family member a copy of the usernames and passwords for safekeeping.

Never keep usernames and passwords on a computer. If the computer contracts a virus or is hacked, the passwords become fair game. Additionally, knowledgeable computer users could retrieve the information from old computers and access the account.

Another option for password safety is using a password manager software like KeePass (http://keepass.info/) or 1Password (http://agilebits.com/products/1Password). Online password protection programs keep track of all passwords so users only have to remember one username and password. After logging in with that username and password, they will have access to all other account information.

(Source: Mariah Smith, Mississippi State University)