Sharing passwords: One way to save a lot of heartache in case of senility, accident, or death

Arrange to give loved ones access to key online accounts. Don't worry, you won't lose control.

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Marisa Taylor cares for her elderly father, and has run into problems with his forgotten passwords.

At some point in your life, you will have to take care of a spouse or close relative who no longer remembers passwords or other information. Or you will have to put that person’s things in order after they pass on. It’s going to be hard either way, but the more information you have, the easier it will be.

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Getting access to a loved one’s accounts without passwords and other information can be extremely difficult. It took me nearly two weeks to get an answer about gaining control of a Microsoft account (Marisa’s particular problem). I was finally told that “The next of kin, medical representative, and/or person with power of attorney can contact the Microsoft Custodian of Records by emailing msrecord@microsoft.com.”

If you think ahead, you can avoid this sort of hassle in the future. When your loved one agrees to give you power of attorney or a similar authority, ask for their passwords and other information (for instance, answers to the questions they set up on various websites). It’s also a good idea to share your own passwords with someone you can trust—such as your spouse.

I’ve recommended password managers in the past. If both of you have them (and you should), each of you should keep a few important passwords in the other person’s password manager. These should include your Windows logon, your email password, and—of course, the master password to your password manager.

Another option would be to print your main passwords and store the printout in a safe deposit box to be opened when you die or become incapacitated.

Finally, make sure your aging parents have their passwords written down somewhere (such as in a password manager), and that you know where and how to find them.

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