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Just in case something ever "happens" to me...

What are some best practices for sharing various account information (bank, email, etc.) with spouses/loved ones in a way that is safe but also not overly technical?

It seems software solutions are often a little complicated for those not familiar with technical things, and writing things on paper could allow them to be physically obtained if our apartment (with no safe) were to be robbed, etc. Not to mention fires, changed passwords, and so on.

There are services such as Legacy Locker and Secure Safe, but I am weary of handing over my credentials to some company. And what if I decide to go on a 6month hiatus and they think I've "moved on"?

Ideally, I'd like a solution that is very simple, secure, and free.

Update: Though I still prefer KeePassX with Google Drive for a cross-platform solution, there is a similar question on SuperUser with other solutions.

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5 Answers 5

up vote 10 down vote accepted

When I set up a similar thing, my solution was put a KeePass database on Dropbox. We both have access to the same Dropbox account, and both of us know the password to the database. It can safely be used to store shared account details, including passwords, account numbers and other details. It's free and entirely point-and-click, so it's really easy to learn.

What makes this approach even better is that everything is backed up on Dropbox, and even if Dropbox goes away (like MegaUpload did) you've still got the local copies in your Dropbox folders.

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+1 for KeePass. Really easy to use and secure. I actually clicked on the question with KeePass in mind but see that Polynomial beat me to it. KeePass is also nice because there are mobile versions so you can keep it with you on your phone. –  AJ Henderson Dec 4 '12 at 14:08
    
Yes, I forgot to mention that. The Android app is very good. In fact, I don't think I know of any other app that works as well as its desktop counterpart. –  Polynomial Dec 4 '12 at 14:09
    
This sounds like a nice solution. I imagine this could also be done with Google Drive? –  shootingstars Dec 4 '12 at 14:11
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Of course. Any "cloud storage" service would work. –  Polynomial Dec 4 '12 at 14:29
    
I failed to mention that I was looking for cross-platform solutions (linux and mac), but it appears there is an open source option, KeePassX, that is compatible with KeePass 1.x data bases (plans to improve this)‌​. I was able to install KeePassX on Ubuntu 12.04 with sudo apt-get install keepassx. –  shootingstars Dec 4 '12 at 16:35
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Please don't share bank passwords! It cause no end of problems because when you die (depending on jurisdiction of course) your accounts are frozen and become part of the estate. If your partner has to dip into the account electronically then that could register as fraud and that's just going to make a bad situation worse. Really you should be looking at the proper legal mechanism to support the original requirement "get my partner money when they need it when I'm gone".

(UK Only)
A better way to do it is to sign a dual "Financial Power of Attorney" between partners/spouses so that if one of you dies, then the other has full legal power to request access to whichever service they wish.

Another approach is to choose a bank that allows multiple identities to access an account; My (UK) bank has two identities (1 for each of us) to access the joint account.

sorry it's not a cool techi answer - but sometimes tech isn't the right approach.

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This is very helpful. That's exactly the opposite of what I thought we should do... take all the money then ask questions later. Our situation is more complicated as we are from the U.S.A. living in Norway with accounts in both. –  shootingstars Dec 4 '12 at 14:18
    
I'm not up to speed with Norwegian law - but your scenario probably needs joint Wills in both territories (if you own substantial assets in both countries). Whilst writing this I was thinking about "How do I leave digital assets (like Kindle books) to my son?" -> that's quite a problem because I'm not sure if digital assets can be reclaimed by a third party - even if they are left to someone in their estate. I imagine that test cases will come soon where large amounts of digital assets are being reclaimed off SaaS providers... –  Callum Wilson Dec 4 '12 at 14:21
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If it's a shared account, you should both have legal access anyway. But Callum is right; for personal accounts you must get power of attorney. However, I disagree with not getting the password. If you've got power of attorney, you're legally allowed to access it. Having the password just makes it easier. –  Polynomial Dec 4 '12 at 14:28
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Firstly, it is excellent you are considering such things. Too few do. A little planning can make a big difference for those who you leave behind when you pass away.

The first thing to consider is to what extent the solution needs to be based on technology. Too often, people believe that because technology is involved, the solution must also be based in technology. In reality, most of the time, all you need is a pen and paper and a secure way to store the information you record in such a way that it cannot be accessed until after you pass away.

My recommendation would be to retain the services of a reputable legal firm. Apart from advising you on the key things to consider, most firms can also facilitate the storage of sensitive information. They can tell you what documentation is important, how to setup a trust or account which will provide your spouse with sufficient funds to live off until the estate is settled and what information, such as details on bank accounts, shares, insurance policies etc, will facilitate processing of the estate.

As mentioned by others, there is no need to record your bank account passwords or pin numbers. Once financial institutions know you are deceased, they will freeze your accounts until the estate is settled. What you want to do is ensure that sufficient documentation is available to process the estate as quickly as possible and if you can and if necessary, provide some source of funds your spouse can use until the estate is settled.

One area where on-line security storage solutions can be of use is for informatio which may change too frequentlly to be easily documented and left with your legal agent. This sort of information is rarely of high sensitivity or value - more convenience stuff. For example, access to some on-line accounts where there may be data your spouse would want to access, such a photos, possibly emails etc. In this case, these on-line services may be useful.

The key here is less the soltuion and more the act of thinking and planning. Keep things simple and straight-forward. Don't go for highly technical solutions, especially if your spouse isn't as technical as you. Go for solutions which will make life as easy for them and which has sufficient security for you and which are in-line with the valule/importance of the items being considered (usually, this means importance/relevance to your spouse, not necessarily to you).

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I would go for not storing any credentials. I'm using Password Live solution which does not requires me to store anything. You can just tell your partner what your master password is so she/he can access your passwords if it's really needed.

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This is definitely interesting. I am weary of using website to do on the fly creation of my passwords, and it seems like it could be tedious to remember such passwords (or regenerate them) for sites that are frequently accessed. What is your work-flow with this like? I use linux, but I could write a script to do this for a non-web solution I suppose. –  shootingstars Dec 22 '12 at 12:24
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I save password hints instead of the actual password. It obviously should NOT be something like mother's maiden name or first car. People who know you could know answers to these questions. As an example of how I would do it, suppose my first street address in New york was 21st street. And my neighbor's dog there was named Lassie. Then I would use that to make a password. teertsLassie21!. To remind me of this password, my hint to myself would be te...21! (teerts is the reverse for street)

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The problem with this approach is that it requires you to use terrible, terrible passwords. This is far worse than choosing good passwords and just writing them down. –  Xander Feb 20 at 20:27
    
I don't understand. For argument sake suppose my first phone number was 908-454-7844. If I were to use the reverse form of it followed by my neighbor's pet's name, followed by an exclamation as a password, my hint would be 44..ky!. How is that a terrible, terrible password? –  developer747 Feb 20 at 20:36
    
That is not what you recommended in your answer. You example password hints were "first car" and "Mother's maiden name." Sure, if you concatenate different pieces of information together, that will be stronger. How much stronger depends on how you choose those passwords. –  Xander Feb 20 at 23:08
    
I said "As long as its NOT something, not too hard to find ". But I see your point.If you read it quickly, it could be misleading. –  developer747 Feb 21 at 16:26
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