If you have a will detailing your assets, make certain that you create it or update it to include not only the list of financial accounts but your usernames and passwords, too! Without log-in information, survivors usually need to go to court for legal authority to gain account access. The process varies from state to state; it doesn't always require a lawyer but it always takes time. In addition, the process can involve the heir approaching the individual online companies to heed her authority - a task that can be very frustrating. Many married couples today already face this issues when trying to get a simple balance on a credit card that is only in one spouse name. Companies today are reluctant to release any information at all-regardless of avoiding potential litigation for personal information violations.
Try contacting customer service and telling them, 'I've been appointed as my late brother's administrator. Please give me his user ID and password”. Eventually, of course, this type of problem is solved when you can reach a real human being who doesn't act like this is the first customer ever to die. But these people have to be sought out within every institution.
The process can be even more complicated if someone is incapacitated rather than dies. If there's no power of attorney, then you have to have a guardian or conservator appointed to have access to these records. Furthermore, some companies won't release any information without a specific court order.
The time to gather all of this information can be lengthy and the costs associated with it, can be more than most families expect. It is definitely an area that can be avoided if you plan for it in your estate plan or be sure to update your existing plan with all of your usernames and passwords.