Dear Mr. Premack: My aunt has been a woman ahead of her time.
Although she is now in her 80’s, she has been working with computers for
20+ years. She was the first in our family to send emails, to embrace a
digital camera, to sign up for Facebook. She does her banking and her
brokerage online, and has gone paperless whenever a service provider
offered the option. Now she has had a stroke. She gave me durable power of
attorney a few years ago. To do my job of paying her bills and keeping her
finances together, I need to access her computer and her accounts but she
did not give me her passwords. Can I use the power of attorney to call her
bank, broker and even Google for her Gmail account password? – H.N.
The durable power of attorney that she signed a few years ago is very
likely a Texas “statutory” durable power of attorney. The word statutory
implies that it is based solely on the terms of a law passed by the
legislature in 1993. A few minor adjustments have been made to the law in
the 19 years that have passed, but there is nothing in the law, and
therefor nothing in her statutory durable power of attorney, relating to
passwords, to online banking, to email or to digital photos she may have
Failure to keep up with changes in real-world
experiences and new technologies is one of the largest weaknesses of the
1993 law. Fortunately the law allows each person’s durable power of
attorney to go beyond the basics that were included in the old statutory
form. Wisdom dictates that people stop using the old statutory document,
and instead work with an attorney versed in these issues who can expand
the durable power of attorney to cover our ever-evolving real world
Here are some examples of items that should be
included in a current durable power of attorney (but are not included in
the old statutory document). The agent should be authorized to access the
• online bank and brokerage accounts
• social networking sites (like Facebook. Linkedin, Twitter or
• email servers (like Gmail, Yahoo, Live, Hotmail,
• commercial services for which the principal may be
registered (such as Netflix, Amazon, Zappos and a
thousand other online stores)
• cloud servers where the
principal stores data, digital images and other files (for example
Dropbox, Google drive or SkyDrive)
• smartphones, like an
android phone or iphone, which may store calendars, contact lists and
personal files the agent needs to access
At the same time the
principal grants that access (by signing the specialized durable power of
attorney) the principal should create a master password list. It can be
compiled in Word or Excel, both of which allow the maker to password
protect the file. Or it can be created in software like Kaspersky Password
Manager or KeePass. The agent must then be informed of the list’s location
and how to access the list.
What can you do, seeing as you have the
old statutory durable power of attorney and no master password list?
First, ask your aunt for clues if she is well enough to communicate.
Second, go to her bank personally with the durable power of attorney in
hand to report that you are her agent. Her past records may be online, but
you can still access them in the old-fashioned way with the bank’s help.
For national sites like Gmail (so you can check her email and respond to
important communications) contact the service provider. Each company has a
or disallow access.