My mother-in-law suffered a very significant stroke about 5 years ago. She was never the same afterwords: She never regained her ability to communicate and eventually passed away in a nursing home.
Donna had been a very organized person. She loved playing the stock market and kept notes and logs of stock prices and whatever else financially minded people keep track of. Like all of us, she also had many online accounts. Luckily her usernames and passwords were pretty easy to guess and we were able to access the accounts.
It really got me thinking, though: If something happened to me, would my family be able to find the information they need? I decided I'd better make sure they could.
First, I'd better describe how I keep records and manage my online life.
For the last year I've been trying to go paperless. Its something that has always sounded appealing, but it wasn't until recently that I felt I had the hardware and software to make it practical. I don't want to go into too much detail about this, but if you're interested in learning more I would recommend David Spark's Paperless book - I wrote a short post about this a while back. The bottom line is, being paperless makes my life easier, but mostly because I know where everything is. However, if something happens to me, my family isn't going to find a file cabinet full of important records. That could be a problem.
I've also been trying to beef up the passwords I use online. Passwords are always tough: We want them to be secure, but we need to remember them too. However, using fluffy1 to log in to the website for my bank, my credit card, and Amazon.com just doesn't seem very smart anymore. If you're doing this, I suggest your read Matt Honan's story about how he got hacked, and hacked bad.
My solution to finding a balance between password security and password ease of use has been 1Password. Again, I'm reticent to go into great detail, but think of 1Passord as a vault for your passwords. You can create passwords like z2VU/7xkR, which is really really secure, but you don't have to remember it - you just have to remember the master password. If that sounds a little sketchy to you ("but, what if someone gets the master password?") , don't worry, it did to me too. However, the more I read up on 1Password the more I became convinced it was a great, safe solution. Much safer than the alternatives, at least, which include having the same password for everything or keeping a list of passwords that you have to pull out every time you need to log in.
So, I use secure passwords. However I realized that, just like the bad guys aren't going to guess that my bank password is z2VU/7xkR, neither is my family. So I decided to write a short note and place it a small fire proof safe (which, incidentally, I purchased after a patient told me how glad she was that she had one when her house burned down). If something happens to me hopefully this will make things easier for my survivors.
Here's the note I made. Of course I changed the passwords to protect the innocent (me).
I'll probably refine it over time, and I'll need to update it when my passwords change. I kept the text file so it can be updated. However, I realized that having a unencrypted text file on my hard drive containing my most valuable paswords would pretty much defeat the purpose of this entire process. How to get around this? Well, I put it in the "secure notes" section of 1Password, of course!
My mom read this post and asked "Does [your wife] understand all this? I don't".
She makes a good point, because I refer to a lot of software and services that I'm very comfortable using but my family is not. A more detailed explanation would be very helpful. However, I still think this is a good start. If I tell myself I needed to write a long, step-by-step explanation on how to recover this information, well, I know I'll put it off. We all tend to do this, especially when 1) we feel no urgency and 2) it involves something we're not comfortable thinking about.
In short, It's better to do something simple today than do nothing at all. There's enough information here to accomplish what I want. In the worse case scenario, my family would need to seek the help of a tech nerd. That's acceptable.