Nearly everyone has digital accounts today, and these accounts often continue to exist even after death. If you’re managing a loved one’s estate, you may be wondering how to access their online accounts, from email to social media to subscriptions.
In the best-case scenario, they will have left a list of usernames and passwords and provided directions for what to do with each account in their will. When this isn’t the case, you’ll have to take some steps to recover them.
The first step is to take inventory of what digital assets your loved one may have had. Consider:
Different accounts have different requirements, and some require more steps than others.
Consider these general guidelines to help you prepare:
Request certified copies of the death certificate
Check for access rules
Contact the company or service
Gather other files and identification
Obtain a letter of testamentary
Keep in mind there are variables that can complicate the process of getting into a loved one’s online accounts. Terms of Service agreements may legally restrict who can access an account or what content they can recover from those accounts. Some companies are working to create specific policies to help in these situations. For instance, Google provides an inactive account manager feature. Skirting these restrictions could mean breaking federal privacy laws or laws against unauthorized access of computers.
Fortunately, states are setting up laws to help people include their wishes for their digital assets with their estate plans. Not every state has these laws yet, though, and account access may still be determined by the Terms of Service agreements if directions are not laid out in a will.
Consider working with a financial or legal professional if you need help managing a loved one’s estate and recovering or closing their online accounts. And don’t forget to prepare our own digital estate plan.