This column first appeared in the San Antonio Express News and other Hearst Newspapers on October 14, 2019.
Dear Mr. Premack: My parents are alive and are living good lives - but are starting to decline. I am their primary Agent and also their Executor. My questions are about digital storage for organizing their documents and their information. They have many passwords for online websites. They have hard copies of current Estate Planning documents. I have looked online and found places that can store this information for them and for me. But what are the legal criteria for a quality choice for online storage of legal information? How does someone choose? Thanks. KC
You are asking about two separate concepts: 1) safe online storage of passwords, and 2) safe online storage of legal documents. As with all cloud-based solutions, the potential solutions are evolving, and the best answers will certainly change as time passes.
Safe and shareable password storage is vital in today’s computerized world. The old solution – writing down passwords on paper set next to your keyboard – is not safe, not adequate, and not shareable. Passwords are required to access online bank and brokerage accounts, file storage like OneDrive or iCloud, emails, Amazon, and a thousand other online tools. Increasingly, they require strong and complex passwords that are challenging to remember.
Our internet browsers will offer to store passwords if/when we log into our Chrome, Edge, or Firefox accounts. The passwords should be safe, but the systems have been cracked by hackers. Could you become a victim and have your passwords stolen? The odds may be low, but there are solutions with higher security.
The best password solutions are stand-alone password managers. They typically have a free trial, and then charge an annual fee. PC Magazine’s recent review ranked Dashlane, Password Keeper, and LastPass as the top three solutions. Each offers secure sharing of the password list, so as Agent you can be provided a link and have full access to your parents’ online world.
Online storage of legal documents should follow these criteria: 1) privacy, 2) cost, and 3) control. These may be met in three different ways. First, there are solutions you may already utilize like OneDrive, iCloud, or Google Drive. Each has a way to allow your parents to share documents with someone of their choice, like you as Agent. They are typically private, add no costs, and give you broad control.
Second, some of the password managers include document storage as well. Keeper gives them a place to upload their important documents – like a copy of their Durable Power of Attorney and Medical Directives – in an encrypted format that can be accessed by the person with whom they want to share. This also meets all three criteria.
Third, you can use a document vault website. There are more every year, each with different subscription costs and features. If they simply store your legal advance directives, are inexpensive, and are private then they can be useful. But some of the websites go beyond storage and sharing into creation of directives and selling your data – and may be misleading, harmful, and even illegal.
For instance, the MyDirectives site located near Dallas offers a “universal advance digital directive” which it claims to be “the first all-digital emergency, critical and advance care plan used worldwide”. They fail to mention that Texas law does not allow creating a legally binding advance directive unless it is done in writing, includes specific statutory provisions, and is signed in front of either two qualified witnesses or a notary. Some websites also sell the data. One website states it gets paid by “vendors who want seamless, secure access to our database”.
The best solution to sharing legal documents may be for your parents to provide hard copies to you as Agent, upload them to a secure location like Keeper, iCloud, or Google Drive, and upload a copy to their primary care physician’s HIPAA compliant online portal.
Paul Premack is a Certified Elder Law Attorney with offices in San Antonio, handling Wills and Trusts, Probate, and Elder Law issues. View past legal columns or submit free questions on legal issues via www.Premack.com.