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Make Sure Your Legacy Includes Your Computer Password

Of all the secrets that we plan to take to our graves, a computer password should not be among them, according to an article in the Austin-American Statesman.

Americans are increasingly keeping vital financial information on their computers. After a death, it can be difficult or impossible for relatives to properly settle the deceased person's estate without access to password-protected computer files.

Retrieving a dead person's password is cumbersome and costly, but not impossible, according to the article. Experts can be hired to break into password-protected files, but the going rate is $150 to $300 an hour. There are also software "decryption" programs designed to break passwords. But if decryption is done ineptly by an amateur, the process could destroy the very data the bereaved is seeking.

The article offers suggestions for keeping passwords secure during life yet available after that:

  • Put a list of passwords in a safe deposit box. If you don't have a safe deposit box, leave the list with the lawyer who drafted your will.
  • Tell your executor and/or spouse your passwords.
  • Write the list on a sheet of paper and place it in a folder with your will and power of attorney.
  • Don't include the password in the actual text of a will. When the will is entered in probate, it becomes a public document. Your password will be out there for the world to see.
  • Don't try to avoid the problem by using an obvious password, such as your birth date, child's birthdate or pet name.
  • Don't keep password lists in your computer.

To read the entire Austin-American Statesman article, click here. (Free registration required and the article appears to be no longer available.)