Passwords from the dead

We have lots of passwords. In my case, some of them are of little consequence. But others are critically important. For instance, I’d hate for my family to be struggling with bank account information if I were to pass away. And with password updates, it is hard to incorporate them in wills. This is not an issue of sharing. The problem is keeping critical family members up-to-date.

The issue also arises for social networks. There is nothing sadder than a Facebook profile of a deceased that just ceases with updates. And that is where a new service, PassMyWill comes in. They will store your passwords for Facebook, Twitter and Email. They’ll check in every once and a while to see if you are still with us. And if not, they’ll send the passwords to trusted loved ones. They will be able to access them with a key you have already given them.

This is one of those ideas that ticks lots of boxes. It solves a problem and it appears easy to use. It is a solid entrepreneurial idea. And yet I wonder whether it can work.

Here are a couple of issues. First, you are handing your passwords over to a private company — a start-up no less. It isn’t entirely clear that the passwords will stay locked down. Yes, adverse publicity will keep a company in line on this but there is always residual concern. Second, because it is a start-up, you have to worry whether it will be around long enough. What you want is to set it and forget it. But in this case, it’s not that simple. I’m not sure what happens when passwords change but I can imagine that is complicated. And then there is the issue of whether the start-up will be around. To be sure, success of the venture will solve that problem but right now we have a classic chicken and egg problem. Third, at the moment the service is free. That might not sound like a problem but if you are after a service that will be around awhile that should give you pause. If they aren’t making money from you who will they make it from? Your loved ones? A price to retrieve the passwords? Advertising for funeral services?

If I had to guess, the right answer is to think of this as a platform rather than a service. The platform could provide the keys to loved ones and a relationship with other services (say Facebook or Gmail). It would then be up to each service to verify whether you are still around. If not, the platform comes in and takes over using your most recent password. This has the advantage of both removing the updating issue, leaving your passwords with their current provider and also, by virtue of those providers accrediting the platform, giving the venture some credibility.

So for the moment, my passwords are willed in a non-digital, possibly imperfect way but I look forward to the day that this solid entrepreneurial idea is matched with the right business model.

7 Replies to “Passwords from the dead”

  1. I use lastpass and share the master password with my wife. If I cared to pass it on to anyone else, I’d store it on paper in a bank lock box.

    Seems less of a hassle that way.

  2. I use to check in on me once a month if I’m dead. If I don’t respond to their emails, another email is sent to someone of my choosing with the password to an encrypted notepad file with logons to all my important services.

  3. There’s a big difference between making sure your bank account number is easily accessible and your online banking password is accessible. There is no need whatsoever for the latter.

    The executor of a will or administrator of the estate has blanket legal authority to deal with account access issues — indeed, anyone with an off-the-shelf power of attorney does too.

    Finally, a survivor who attempts to access a decedent’s bank accounts without the probate court’s prior approval is actually committing a crime.

  4. You can always use LastPass, or a similar password management service. The master password is inclosed in the will, all others can be changed as frequently as needed…

    Ps: Man, the captcha is definitely not human readable! I´m on my third try. And the audio version got me nowhere.

  5. I’m just not seeing it. A far simpler and more secure way of doing it would be to store your passwords in your physical device (laptop/phone/whatever… this is already the browser/app default, so for most people there’s nothing to do) and make sure your next-of-kin get your devices after you die.

    BTW, “They’ll check in every once and a while to see if you are still with us.” = “They’ll send you constant reminders of your impending death.”

  6. You know, having just been through a case of a deceased relative and the highly dysfunctional legal system it seems to me that the higher and better need would be online will registration. he hassle of trying to determine that what you think is the last will is the last will, etc.

    Solve the first problem and you could add as many other attachments as you like to the file called “to be given to my executor immediately on my passing”.

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