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

Only one key employee has access to all of your small business’ important online accounts: your cloud-based payroll software, Twitter account, Facebook account and bank account. That’s fine. But what happens if that employee should die suddenly? Do you know the passwords to your company’s online bank account? How about that cloud-based payroll service? And 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 covered this issue on its Web site. It might seem like an obscure matter, something that could never impact your small business. But think it over: How important has the cloud become to your company? How about the Web? Do you run an active social media campaign, connecting regularly with your customers? You might not be able to access your business’ Twitter or Facebook sites if the only person who knew their passwords has died. Are there vendors to pay? You might not be able to if you can’t get access to your company’s online bank account. And what about your employees? They want to get paid on time, right? They won’t if you suddenly can’t open your company’s cloud-based payroll software.

False sense of security?

The Wall Street Journal says that way too many business owners have a false sense of security when it comes to using the cloud. They don’t really fear losing valuable files or information because, they assume, they’re safely tucked away in the cloud. But the cloud isn’t perfect. It, too, may be vulnerable to hackers. And because everything stored in the cloud needs passwords, gaining access to important information can prove challenging when the one person who knew all those passwords suddenly passes away.


Of course, the most effective way for business owners to safeguard themselves is to be sure that several people know the passwords for these accounts. Owners could also compile a list of passwords and keep it securely stored in a safe. But what happens if online accounts are in an individual’s name instead of a company’s? Then there can be trouble. Privacy laws and policies might make it so that no one besides 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 company or the names of more than one staff member.

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