Passwords and Sudden Death

broken-trust-coverIn Broken Trust, the three protagonists – Fitz,Charles and Jamie – face sudden death more than once as they struggle to untangle their investigation into the Swiss Development Bank’s manipulation of the gold market.  Fitz’s colleague Gary dies after a hit and run accident.  One of the challenges Fitz and her boss face after Gary’s death is how to get into Gary’s computer.  The SEC’s IT department figures out the password, only to destroy the hard drive because a hacker has hidden malware in one of his files.

You may not have to worry about evil bankers blowing up your hard drive, but most of us face the threat of hackers gaining access to our bank accounts, credit cards and other sensitive information. How many passwords do you have?  Where are they stored?  Do you use the same password for many accounts?  Are the passwords you create secure? Who knows? The password challenge is complex, involving cyber security, memory, documentation, and access.

When someone dies suddenly, among all of the wrenching challenges faced by the survivors, tracking down passwords may be one of the most frustrating.  In the New York Times Magazine article by Ian Urbina, “The Secret Life of Passwords,” the author recounts the very real challenge Howard Lutnick, CEO of Cantor Fitzgerald, faced in the days following 9/11.  He and his staff had to recover passwords for hundreds of accounts and files after the majority of Cantor Fitzgerald’s employees died.  Although they had contingency plans for recovering passwords in a variety of situations, none included the massive loss of employees the terrorist attacks caused.   (NY Times Article)

What if you died tomorrow? In the context of your sudden death, recovering passwords is one of the many obstacles personal representatives of your estate, your surviving spouse or partner, adult children and business colleagues face as they come to terms with your death.  Someone will need to notify key personal and business contacts of your death, arrange for your memorial service, get you’re your bank accounts, make payroll, transfer your assets and responsibilities accurately and efficiently, collect life insurance policy benefits, pay estate taxes and other debts, and many other tasks associated with settling your estate and helping loved ones and business colleagues move on with life.

When was the last time you updated a central document that provides key information to identify the location of your banks, deeds, legal documents, and passwords?  If that is something you need to do, use the following link to start to pull all of that information into one document which can be stored securely either in the cloud or as a written document left with with your attorney, in your safe or safe deposit box.  We have also provided a link to a personal data organizer you can use as a guide to identify information that would be critical for your family in the event of a sudden death.    Sudden Death checklist rev 1014

To read more about cybersecurity see our related posting:  “Are You Cyber Secure?”