Most, if not all, of us have some sort of electronic presence, whether it’s a web-based email account, a Facebook profile or a Twitter account. These accounts likely contain a great deal of personal information and connect you to numerous people around the world. Most of us also keep our passwords to ourselves.
So, what happens to all of your accounts when you die?
For Hotmail, the next of kin may provide identification and a death certificate in order to fully access the account. For Gmail, the next of kin may provide identification and a death certificate in order to access the account, but must also show proof of communication with the deceased. For Yahoo! mail, next of kin is not allowed to access the account unless this is provided for in the will.
Facebook and Twitter also have specific policies in place to assist next of kin on a user’s death (CNN has a full comparison of the two here). Twitter requires the next of kin’s full name, contact information, relationship to the deceased user, username of the deceased user and a link to a public obituary or news article showing the death of the user. Upon receipt of all of this information, Twitter will either remove the account or provide an archive of the user’s tweets for the family to access offline.
Facebook gives next of kin two options: remove the account or memorialize it. If it is memorialized, the deceased user’s friends can continue to access the page to leave messages, but it will not show up in searches (either within Facebook or publicly). Also, all contact information and status updates are removed from the profile, and it is blocked for logins (so if someone else had access, they will not be able to change anything on the profile).
If you have sensitive information in any of your online accounts, you will want to consider very carefully who might be able to access them after your death and prepare now.