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Estate planning must include unlocking your online passwords

Your heirs will need the keys to access all those user names and passwords that make up your personal online cloud.

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Your heirs will need the keys to access all those user names and passwords that make up your personal online cloud.

Your online assets keep growing.

Ebay. Paypal. Amazon. AOL. Yahoo! Google. Facebook. LinkedIn. MySpace. iTunes. Flickr. Electronic bank accounts. Electronic documents.

Locked away in cyberspace are your memories, your social networks, your e-mails, your money and (unfortunately) your debts.

Then you die.

Your loved ones twiddle their thumbs as they try to figure out how to unlock your online world — from your free e-mail accounts to money electronically paid to you.

Enter Legacylocker.com, a month-old operation that is causing us to think about electronic asset protection. Legacylocker.com allows you to store the access information to your accounts in a secure online account for $29.99 a year or a one-time $299.99 payment for life.

Those listed as beneficiaries to your legacy locker provide your death record and receive access to all your accounts.

Jeremy Toeman, co-founder of Legacy Locker, says the system beats having to pass along new passwords and information to your estate lawyer or planner every time you sign up for a Web service.

Toeman said the company uses a high level of security to protect consumers. He said there's no way to hack in other than physically accessing their computers.

"We're using a pretty high level of security, specifically designed knowing we have all this sensitive data," Toeman said. "Everything has its own individual key."

I know what some of you are thinking: not another online thing to help me with all my other online things. Another user name. Another password.

Why not just give the information to my estate planner or stick it in a safe deposit box?

Well, the expansion of the online world has forced estate planners to think about it all, too. And they're not sure they want your user names and passwords.

"There's a liability issue there," said Karin Prangley, a fellow with the American Bar Association who handles real property trusts and estate law. "We feel there is a finger to point at us" if something goes wrong.

Prangley, a Chicago lawyer, said she has taken a look at Legacylocker.com and describes it as a state-of-the-art operation but suggests waiting for consumer reports and expert reviews on the product. "I would just really want to see the product develop."

Consumers could store the information in a safe deposit box, but anecdotally, Prangley says, that seems to be a less popular option for the more tech-savvy generation.

Carol Kaplan, a spokeswoman for the American Bankers Association, believes safe deposit boxes, which start about $29 a year, would be a better option than leaving your data vulnerable to hackers who know how to tap even secure federal government computers.

"Someone could blow up a bank and crack open all the safe deposit boxes, yes," Kaplan said. "Is it likely to happen? No."

Kaplan suggests consumers consider a low-tech approach to your survivors: Give a copy of the information to a trusted family member.

"If you can't trust a family member, I don't know why you would want to leave them anything, anyway," Kaplan said.

So here's the Edge:

•?Take account of your online assets. Reality is that anything could happen, whether death or serious injury. Family may need to access that information.

•?Store the information in a safe place. No matter which method you use, you need to identify loved ones to handle your business.

Using trusted family could save you money over fee-driven alternatives.

Ivan Penn can be reached at ipenn@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2332.

Estate planning must include unlocking your online passwords 05/29/09 [Last modified: Monday, June 1, 2009 3:40pm]
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