Talking about dying is no fun. However, when that day happens, I wondered who will have access to or own my online accounts, including Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, and so on. Do they die with me?
Every online service will have a specific policy regarding how your account will be handled when you are gone. Given that you will likely have important information in your email account, rest assured that your next of kin will be interested in knowing what’s in there. Many of us have years, if not a decade of information archived in our online accounts.
Here are the requirements someone else will need to provide Gmail in case of your death:
- Your full name and contact information, including a verifiable mailing address
- Your Gmail address
- The full header from the Gmail message you sent to your next of kin, including the entire contents of the message
- Proof of death
- Proof that the person requesting access to your account has the lawful authority to represent you upon your death
As you can see, within a week or so, someone you know will have access to your account. If you have information that you wish to perish with you, it’s best for you to have a management approach in which certain emails are trashed and deleted automatically.
Different from Gmail, Facebook takes a more private approach with the following policy: Please note that in order to protect the privacy of the deceased user, we cannot provide login information for the account to anyone. We do honor requests from close family members to close the account completely.
The next of kin can report the death to Facebook, and memorialize the person’s account, which means removing sensitive information like status updates and restricts profile access to friends who have been confirmed.
Protecting Your Privacy
Yahoo is stricter than even Gmail and Facebook. The only option available to others is to delete your account. They will not have the option to view your emails, which can be both good and bad. It’s good that you can maintain some level of privacy, but if you have life insurance specifics stored here, it cannot be accessed.
As uncomfortable as it might be, you need to think ahead. What information do you want to make available to others? Instead of keeping that information in your online accounts, make it available offline. Of course, this means you have done a good job of communicating this approach to your next of kin. You can even include specifics in your will.
Have a Big Plan
Up to now the discussion has centered on your online accounts. You should also consider the information on your computer, thumb drive, and external hard disk. In some cases, you might have confidential company information. If so, a plan must be in place to retrieve those items.
Many don’t really care what happens to their information when they die. However, employers, government agencies, and significant others have a vested interest in your intellectual property. Having a process in place, and taking the time to communicate it to those who matter can avoid major problems.