What happens to online accounts after the one person with access dies?

Only one key employee can access all of your small business’ very important online accounts: your cloud-based payroll software, Twitter account, Facebook account and bank account. That’s fine. But imagine if that employee should die suddenly? Do you know the passwords to your company’s online bank account? What about that cloud-based payroll service? And even if you did, would you legally be able to access the online accounts after this employee dies?

Too much power?

The Wall Street Journal recently highlighted this issue on its Web site. It might not feel like an issue that your business will suffer. But if your business has online accounts that only one person has access, you might be tempting fate. If that person dies, are you able to access your online bank account so that you can pay your vendors or cut a rent check to your landlord? How about your payroll software? Will you be able to cut checks to your employees, most of whom want to get paid on their regular payday? And then there’s Twitter and Facebook. If your business relies on these tools to communicate with customers, you’ll need to know the passwords that give you access.

A trust issue

The Wall Street Journal story points to a larger issue: Many business owners mistakenly think that when they store their files and records in the cloud, these documents and folders are safe. In fact, they’re not. Hackers can still target them. And if nobody can access this info because a key employee has died? Then you and your business are really in trouble.

Solving the problem

Of course, the easiest way for business owners to protect themselves is to ensure that several people know the passwords for these online accounts. Owners can also compile a list of passwords and keep it safely stored in a safe. But what happens if online accounts are in an individual’s name rather than the company’s? Then there can be trouble. Privacy laws and policies might make it so that no one other than that specific individual can ever get into an account. The Wall Street Journal story points to the terms-of-service agreement for Yahoo! It declares that ownership ends if the account holder dies. No one else, then, can get in. The solution here? Make certain your online accounts are in either the name of your business or the names of more than one staff member.

Posted on: 04.02.14