What happens to your email or social media accounts when you die?

What happens to your email or social media accounts when you die? How easy is it to get access?

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The growth in the number of email accounts, social networking profiles and blogs has been extraordinary. Many of us have more than one email account and we may have a profile on Facebook, Twitter or Linkedin. Others have websites or blogs that are or could be commercially valuable. And if computer gaming is your thing, your profile could be tradeable. Find out what happens to your accounts when you die and how easy it is to get access.

Can your relatives access your accounts?

If you have email accounts or profiles on sites such as Twitter or Facebook it will be pretty tricky for someone else to access them if they don’t know your passwords.

SAVVY TIP: Companies often quote the Data Protection Act as a reason (or excuse) not to release information. I’ve checked with the Information Commissioner and the act only applies while someone is still alive.

Nicola Plant, who’s a wills and trusts solicitor found there was little consistency between the providers’ approach.

  • Facebook: Family members will be able to close a Facebook account or set up a memorial page once the death of the account holder has been confirmed. You can find information about how to memorialise an account on Facebook.

SAVVY TIP: As a friend or family member of the account holder you wouldn’t be able to change their profile page. But you would be able to say whether you wanted others to be able to write on the memorial page.

  • Flickr: Your Flickr account would stay open after you die but friends and family wouldn’t be able to access photos marked as private.

SAVVY TIP: You can close down someone’s Flickr account if you send their legal team a copy of the death certificate. If they had a paid-for Flickr account it will revert to a free one if the premiums aren’t paid, which means only a limited number of photos are available to view.

  • Gmail: Next of kin can apply for access to a Gmail account but would need to be able to prove their own identity and provide a copy of the death certificate and evidence of some email correspondence between them and the account holder.
  • Outlook: Will give next of kin access to a hotmail account if they can prove their identity. Alternatively, it will remove an account if it is inactive for 270 days.

SAVVY TIP: You may be able to get access to a copy of email correspondence on a deceased family member’s hotmail account if you have a copy of the death certificate and evidence of power of attorney.

  • MySpace: Treats accounts on a case-by-case basis. It will let relatives of a deceased account holder delete a profile or will remove one at their request. However, it will not allow family members to access or edit any of the settings or content on the user’s profile.
  • Twitter: Next of kin can contact Twitter and get their account removed or receive help in backing up public tweets. You’ll need to provide your name and relationship to the deceased account holder, a link to their profile or their twitter name and link to an obituary. You can find out more about contacting Twitter in the event of the death of a user on its website.
  • Yahoo: Next of kin can close a Yahoo account but cannot get access to it. Yahoo regard it as private communication.

Passing on your passwords

You may not want your next of kin to have access to your email accounts or Facebook profile etc, but if you do, you need to think about how to make it easy for them. Leaving them access to your passwords is the obvious thing to do, the question is how?

  • Leaving a copy of passwords in a safe place: This is a simple option as long as you tell your friends/family where the passwords are and make sure they really are left somewhere safe.

SAVVY TIP: It’s not recommended for accounts, such as bank accounts, where someone could commit fraud if they got hold of the details. Depending on where you left them the bank might think you’ve been negligent.

  • Using an online password storage service. There are several specialist services such as LastPass,  Dashlane, KeePass, IPassword and Roboform. You pay an annual or lifetime fee (although KeePass is free) and they say that your passwords are stored safely and in an encrypted format. You can also input all your financial account information to websites such as Planned Departure, whi

SAVVY TIP: These firms say that data is very safe and that they’ve set up safeguards so the information will be stored even if the firm goes bust. However, it’s yet to be tested. Personally, I wouldn’t use them but I know many others who do.

  • Leave details in your will. You can specify in your will who should have access to your online accounts and where password details etc will be stored. There are two problems with this, one is that most people don’t make a will (or not until they’re quite elderly) and many lawyers aren’t aware of this issue.

Does your blog have value?

If you have a website or blog with commercial value you need to think about what will happen to that when you die (or if you become incapacitated). If you want to leave the blog/website or computer gaming profile to someone else you’ll need to spell that out in your will.

SAVVY TIP: If it has a commercial value there could also be a potential inheritance tax liability.

Useful Links: Find a list of independent funeral directors on the SavvyWoman directory.

Related articles:

What to do when someone dies; who to contact and how to get probate

VIDEO: Why you need a will

When can you challenge a will? How a will can be contested

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