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After a fellow colleague from the University at Buffalo Law School passed away in a tragic plane crash this past summer, I was plagued with a question that is surprisingly common: After death, what happens to your accounts online? This seems to be a hot topic now. Here is a rundown on what happens to your online accounts when you happen to pass away.
According to Make Use Of.com, every site has its own protocol to deal with the matter. It details how Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo Mail deals with death. For example, Gmail allows next of kin to access your account. However, Google requires that the next of kin provide their own information, your email address, and an email stating your death along with proof of death. Google also requires that the next of kin accessing the account to be lawfully allowed to access the account.
In contrast, Hotmail will automatically delete inactive accounts after a year of not being used. However, if next of kin wish to access the account, they will need to provide proof of death such as a death certificate. They also require that the next of kin provide their own contact information along with documents that state that they are the executor of your estate or have a power of attorney.
Yahoo Mail has the strictest policy. They refuse to allow anyone to access your account. Yahoo will only delete the account after it has received notification of the user's death.
Facebook resfuses to grant anyone access to a deceased user's account, but after the company receives notification of the death, it will turn the user page into a memorial page. Facebook removes features such as status updates and will only allow current friends to access the page. Next of kin are permitted to customize the page though. According to Time, if next of kin insist, then the user's page can actually be removed.
MySpace will not allow anyone to access a deceased user's page either, but they will remove it if the next of kin think it should be removed. If you email them with an attachment of documentation of the death, then they will remove the page.
Time did a good job of outlining possible ways to manage a tricky situation. After all, do you really want your family members to jump through all of those hoops for you?
There are companies who are willing to do the legwork for you... for a price that is. Some of these companies are Legacy Locker, Asset Lock, and Deathswitch. Time quotes Legacy Locker founder Jeremy Toeman as saying, "Digital legacy is at best misunderstood and at worst not thought about."
In order to not become one of those people who never thought about it, it may be a useful service to sign up for. This is especially useful if you don't want your loved ones to suffer through trying to access your accounts.
Or you could just have a folder with all of your account information on all of your online accounts that you keep in a safety deposit box. That may save time and money in the long run.
Whatever you choose, just remember that online accounts require as much planning as actual accounts. While it seems strange and even creepy to think about death, it is always best to be prepared.
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