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A Guide to Managing Online Accounts After the Death of a Loved One

In this article:

    In today's digital world, a person’s online presence extends far beyond the present, sometimes going back years and sometimes continuing on after we’re gone. 

    In this article, we’ll cover what a digital legacy is, what you need to close social media and online financial accounts after an account holder passes away, and what digital afterlife solutions are required for each type of account before you can deactivate or delete it.

    Key takeaways

    • Each platform has its own rules and regulations about if and how you can access another person’s account if they have passed away
    • Like Google’s Inactive Account Manager and Apple’s Legacy Contact feature, many online platforms offer tools to help you plan ahead and grant permission to access your account if you pass away.
    • If you aren’t an appointed legacy contact of the account, you will most likely be required to contact support to request access or delete the account.
    • Requesting access to manage or delete the account after the account holder has passed away often requires documentation such as proof of death and proof of your authority to access the account.
    • When dealing with or trying to get access to accounts, it's best to work in a private place and not use public Wi-Fi or shared computers.

    What is a digital legacy?

    A digital legacy covers all the digital information, accounts, and files a person leaves behind after they pass away. 

    Each digital footprint contributes to a person's digital legacy, shaping how they are remembered online and affecting how their personal and financial information is managed posthumously.

    Importance of Recovering Online Accounts After Death

    Managing a loved one's digital legacy is an essential yet often overlooked aspect of estate planning and grieving. In the aftermath of a loss, accessing and securing the deceased's online accounts can protect their identity from theft, preserve cherished memories, and ensure their wishes are respected. 

    For executors and family members, this process involves making decisions about which accounts to close, which to memorialize, and how to handle digital assets and personal data

    Responsibly managing these digital footprints can also prevent financial loss and protect the privacy and legacy of the deceased.

    Overview of Types of Accounts in a Digital Legacy

    When navigating the different aspects of a digital legacy, it's important to consider a wide array of online accounts:

    • Social Media: Platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter (X), LinkedIn, TikTok, and YouTube, where individuals share their lives and connect with others.
    • Email: Services such as Gmail and Yahoo Mail, which may contain important personal and financial information.
    • Fintech and Cryptocurrency: Online banking, investment platforms (e.g., Wealthsimple), and cryptocurrency accounts (e.g., Coinbase), which hold financial assets.
    • Digital Storage and Cloud Services: Platforms like Google Drive, iCloud, Dropbox, and Google Photos, where personal data, documents, and memories are stored.
    • Online Gambling: Accounts with platforms like DraftKings and FanDuel, which may contain remaining balances or active bets.
    • Online Dating: Profiles on platforms like Tinder or Bumble, which hold personal information and private communications.

    Each type of account requires a specific approach to make sure sensitive information is handled properly and according to the wishes of the deceased or their estate's executor. 

    The following sections will dig deeper into the processes and considerations for managing these accounts, including closing or maintaining them in consideration of a loved one's digital legacy.

    Social Media Account Management After Death

    Social media accounts often serve as vibrant reflections of a person's life, interests, and relationships. But what about their social media afterlife? 

    Each platform has its own policies and options for a deceased person's accounts, ranging from memorialization to deletion. 

    Policies and Features for Handling Accounts Posthumously

    Most social media platforms offer specific features for managing the accounts of deceased users. 

    These generally fall into two categories: memorialization, which preserves the account in a state that acknowledges the user's passing while preventing any future logins or interactions, and deletion, which permanently removes the account and all associated data. 

    The choice between these options depends on whether the account holder communicated their wishes orally or in their will to their family or estate executor.

    Managing Major Social Media Platforms After Death

    Here's a brief overview of the process and considerations for some of the most popular  social media platforms:

    Facebook (Meta) and Instagram: Meta offers the option to either memorialize or delete the accounts of deceased users

    Screenshot of Meta account ownership and control page showing two options: memorialization and deactivation or deletion.
    • For memorialization, a family member or executor must provide proof of death before the account can be memorialized, which preserves the account in a way that allows friends to continue viewing profiles and sharing memories.
      • If you choose to memorialize your account, you'll need to select a legacy contact to manage your account. A legacy contact can accept friend requests on behalf of a memorialized profile and change the profile picture and cover photo.
    • Deletion requests require both proof of death and proof of authority (ex. Power of attorney or a will) to remove the account from the platform permanently.

    Twitter (X): Twitter allows family members or estate executors to request the deactivation of a deceased user's account. After the 30-day deactivation window passes, the account will be deleted. This process requires submitting a form along with documentation proving the executor's identity and the user's death.

    Screenshot from Twitter request deactivation form, which options for if the account owner is deceased.

    LinkedIn: To remove or memorialize a deceased member's profile, LinkedIn requires a request form to be filled out, including details about the deceased, the requester, and a link to an obituary or death certificate. The platform then reviews the request and removes the account accordingly.

    Screenshot for the contact support form for LinkedIn.

    TikTok: To delete the TikTok account of a deceased person without having account access, a family member or executor will need to contact TikTok support directly at feedback@tiktok.com, as there is currently no official form to fill out.

    YouTube (Google): Because YouTube accounts are linked to Google accounts, managing a deceased user's profile can involve accessing their Google account (discussed in the Digital Files and Cloud Storage section). YouTube allows users to submit a request form for closure of the account or data preservation, depending on the family's wishes and Google's inactive account manager settings.

    Screenshot from request closure form for Google regarding closing the account of a deceased user.

    Policies and procedures can change, so it's important to consult the latest guidance from each platform when managing a loved one's social media accounts.

    Managing Digital Files and Cloud Storage After Death

    How many pictures do you have in a physical photo album versus stored on your phone or online? In the era of digital documentation and online memories, digital files and cloud storage accounts hold significant value. 

    Digital storage can contain everything from personal photos and videos to important documents and creative works. Managing these digital assets after a loved one has passed away is important for both their legacy and making sure their personal information remains secure.

    Process for accessing digital file/cloud storage platforms

    Accessing a deceased person's digital files and cloud storage involves several steps and often requires specific documentation and adherence to the platform's policies. Generally, the process includes:

    • Verification of Death: Providing the platform with a death certificate or other legal documentation proving the user's death.
    • Proof of Legal Right: Demonstrating your legal right to access the deceased's accounts. This might involve submitting a copy of the will, a court order, or proof of executorship.
    • Request Submission: Completing any forms or requests required by the service provider to gain access to or close the account.

    It's important to note that privacy laws and platform policies can significantly impact the ability to access or manage a deceased user's digital files and cloud storage.

    Popular platforms and how to access them

    Google Drive & Google Photos As part of Google's broader account management, the Google Inactive Account Manager feature allows users to designate a contact to manage their account if it becomes inactive.

    If no arrangement was made, family members or legal representatives must contact Google directly, providing the necessary documentation to manage the deceased's digital assets according to Google's policies.

    iCloud (Apple) If you're a Legacy Contact for the deceased—and you have both the unique access key they created when they added you as a Legacy Contact and their death certificate—you can start a request for access to their account on an Apple device or on the Digital Legacy - Request Access page.

    Otherwise, Apple requires proof of death documentation that proves the requester is the legal representative or next of kin.

    Dropbox For Dropbox, the process involves contacting customer support with a request to access or close the deceased's account.

    To request access to the account of someone who has passed away, you'll need to provide proof of death documentation and proof of your legal right to access the person's files under all applicable laws.

    Privacy and Security Concerns

    When managing a deceased person's digital files and cloud storage, privacy and security are most important. Only attempt to access or close accounts that you have legal authorization for, and be mindful of the sensitive nature of the data you're managing.

    Fintech and Cryptocurrency Accounts

    The rise of financial technology (fintech) and cryptocurrency has changed the way we manage money, and the digital platforms we use to manage these assets require special consideration in estate planning and management. 

    After a loved one's death, accessing and managing their fintech and cryptocurrency accounts can be crucial for settling their estate and ensuring their assets are distributed according to their wishes. 

    💸 How the value of cryptocurrency can change Imagine you purchased 10 Bitcoins in 2011 when the price was around $1 per Bitcoin. Your investment would have been only $10.

    Now, fast-forward to 2021, when the price of Bitcoin surged to around $60,000 per Bitcoin. If you hadn't touched your investment and still held onto those 10 Bitcoins, they would be worth $600,000 in total.

    This illustrates how cryptocurrency accounts can hold significant value over time due to the potential for appreciation in the value of the cryptocurrency itself. Of course, it's important to note that the value of cryptocurrencies can be volatile, and there are risks associated with investing in them.

    Accessing Fintech and Cryptocurrency Accounts After Death

    The process for accessing fintech and cryptocurrency accounts after a loved one has passed away varies significantly between platforms but generally includes the following steps:

    Notification of Death
    Contact the platform to notify them of the account holder's death, providing a death certificate and any other required documentation.
    Verification of Executorship or Legal Authority
    Submit legal documents proving your authority to manage the deceased's estate, such as a will, probate letter, or court order.
    Account Access or Closure Requests
    Follow the platform's procedures to request access to the account or its closure. This may involve filling out specific forms or providing additional information about the account.

    It's important to note that the decentralized nature of cryptocurrencies can make accessing these assets more challenging, especially if the deceased did not leave behind clear instructions or keys.

    Fintech and Cryptocurrency Platforms: Key Considerations

    • Wealthsimple: To manage a deceased person's account, contact Wealthsimple with a death certificate and legal documentation proving your authority. The platform will guide you through the process of transferring or closing the account.
    • Coinbase: For cryptocurrency accounts like Coinbase, accessing a deceased's account requires proof of death and legal authority. Due to the security and privacy concerns associated with cryptocurrencies, expect this process to be stringent.
    • Online Bank Accounts: Traditional banks with online services typically require a death certificate and documentation of executorship or next of kin status to access or close accounts. The process can vary, so contact the bank directly for specific instructions.

    Legal Factors and Beneficiary Designations

    Understanding the legal aspects of managing digital assets is critical. Some platforms allow account holders to set up bitcoin or cryptocurrency inheritances for designated beneficiaries, which can simplify the transfer of assets upon death. But without this pre-planning or clear instructions in a will, inheritance can be complicated, potentially even requiring court intervention.

    Cryptocurrencies also pose unique challenges due to their nature. Without access to the deceased's digital wallet or keys, these assets can be effectively lost, so it's essential for individuals to include detailed instructions for their digital assets in their estate planning.

    Email Accounts: Closure and Access

    Email accounts are an important part of a person’s digital identity, and often used to access various online services, as well as store personal and financial information. After a loved one's passing, managing their email accounts is a critical step toward safeguarding their digital legacy and privacy.

    Accessing Email Accounts After Death

    The process for accessing a deceased person's email account varies by provider but generally requires the following steps:

    Notification and Documentation
    Inform the email service provider of the user's death by providing a copy of the death certificate along with any other requested documentation, such as proof of your relationship to the deceased or legal authority to manage their estate.
    Request for Access or Closure
    Submit a formal request to access the deceased's email account or to close it. The specific requirements for this request can vary significantly between providers.
    Compliance with Terms of Service
    Adhere to the email provider's terms of service and privacy policies, which may limit the extent to which you can access or manage the deceased's account.

    How to access Gmail, Outlook and other major email providers

    • Gmail (Google): Google may provide content from a deceased user's account to an authorized representative under certain circumstances. This process involves submitting a detailed application that includes information about the deceased, the person requesting access, and the legal basis for the request. Google evaluates these requests on a case-by-case basis, balancing legal requirements and privacy considerations.
    • Yahoo Mail: Yahoo's policy traditionally does not allow for the transfer of account ownership or access to account contents. However, authorized representatives like executors or next of kin may request the deletion of the account by providing documentation proving the user's death and their authority to make such a request.
    • Hotmail (now Outlook): Relatives or authorized representatives of a deceased user can request access to or deletion of the user's email account. This involves submitting proof of death and legal documentation that establishes authority, such as a will or court order, directly to Microsoft. Each request is evaluated on a case-by-case basis, with Microsoft balancing privacy concerns against legal requirements.
    • iCloud: To access and close an iCloud email account for someone who has passed away, you'll need to contact Apple's Account Support team and provide a copy of the death certificate along with proof that you are the legal next of kin or estate executor (such as a will or court order). Once Apple verifies the documentation, they should provide instructions to reset the account password, download any important data from iCloud (emails, photos, documents, etc.), and then close or deactivate the iCloud email account permanently. It's crucial to follow Apple's official process and provide proper legal documentation, as they take privacy very seriously before granting access to a deceased person's account.
    • ISP-associated email accounts like those from Bell, Shaw, Telus or Rogers: Contact customer service to begin the process of accessing or deleting a deceased user's account. The requester must provide proof of the user's death and legal documentation of their authority to make such requests. The specific steps and required documentation can vary by ISP, based on their individual policies and privacy practices.

    Options for Email Account Closure After Death

    When deciding whether to close a deceased person's email account or preserve its data, consider the following:

    Closure Preservation
    Closing the account can help protect against identity theft and unauthorized access. It also serves as a definitive step in settling the deceased's digital affairs. Before closure, ensure any important information or documents stored in the account are retrieved. Preserving or memorializing the account's data may be important for sentimental reasons or to maintain access to online services and subscriptions linked to the email. In some cases, it may be possible to download the account's contents for offline storage.

    Legal and Ethical Considerations

    Navigating the legal and ethical aspects of accessing a deceased person's email requires careful consideration. Ensure compliance with privacy laws and respect the deceased's wishes as much as possible. If the deceased left instructions regarding their digital assets, follow these directives to honour their legacy.

    Online Casino and Sports Betting Accounts

    Online betting platforms, such as DraftKings and FanDuel, have become increasingly popular, offering a range of betting and fantasy sports activities.

    When a loved one who held accounts on these platforms passes away it’s important to settle these accounts too. This includes addressing any remaining account balances and ensuring the accounts are properly closed or handled according to the platform's policies and the deceased's wishes.

    Process for Accessing and Managing Accounts

    The process for managing a deceased person's online betting account typically involves several key steps:

    Notification of Death
    The first step is to notify the platform of the account holder's death. This usually requires submitting a formal notification along with a copy of the death certificate.
    Verification and Documentation
    You may need to provide additional documentation to verify your identity and your relationship to the deceased, as well as any legal authority you have to manage their affairs (e.g., documentation proving you are the executor or administrator of the estate).
    Account Review and Closure
    Once your request is processed, the platform will review the account. They may provide information on any remaining balances and outline the process for withdrawing these funds or closing the account.

    Handling Account Balances

    Deceased users' accounts may have remaining balances that need to be withdrawn or transferred by submitting a withdrawal request. 

    These funds would be assets of the person’s estate, and so what happens to them depends on whether there is a will or not. 

    • If there is a will, the funds will be distributed by the executor once they have a grant of probate (if required) and get legal access to the account through the bank. 
    • If there is no will, an appointed estate administrator would likewise need a grant of administration before the platform can give access to the account. 

    Terms of Service Considerations

    When managing a deceased's online betting account, it's important to review the platform's terms of service, especially those sections related to account inactivity, death, and fund withdrawal. These terms can affect how the account should be handled and what steps are necessary for closure.

    Inactivity Policies Account Closure and Funds
    Some platforms may have policies about account inactivity that could affect how you’re allowed to manage or access a deceased user's account. It’s important to know how a platform deals with closing accounts and what happens to any money left behind. This way, you can make sure everything gets handled the right way, following both the law and the platform's own rules.

    Privacy and Security

    It's also important to keep the deceased person's account safe and private while dealing with it. Make sure any communications with the platform are secure and that you keep sensitive information safe.

    Online Dating Profile Management

    In the digital age, online dating profiles are a common part of many individuals' social lives and often reflect many personal tastes, interests, and relationships.

    When someone passes away, their online dating profile post-mortem still remains a sensitive part of their online presence. By managing these profiles thoughtfully, you’ll help honour the deceased's digital legacy while also considering privacy and the feelings of those whom the deceased might have interacted with.

    Deactivating or Deleting Online Dating Profiles Posthumously

    The process for deactivating or deleting someone’s digital dating profile after they pass away varies across platforms but generally involves the following steps:

    Notification and Documentation
    Contact the dating platform to notify them of the user's passing. This typically requires submitting a notification along with a copy of the death certificate and possibly other documentation proving your relationship to the deceased or your authority to manage their digital affairs.
    Request for Deactivation or Deletion
    Specify your request to either deactivate or permanently delete the profile. Deactivation might make the profile invisible to others without removing the data, whereas deletion will remove the profile and all associated data from the platform.
    Follow Platform Procedures
    Each platform has its own procedures for handling such requests. Be prepared to follow these procedures closely, including filling out any necessary forms and providing additional information as required.

    Key Features and Considerations for Main Platforms

    While specific processes can differ, here are some general considerations:

    • Privacy: Ensure that your actions respect the privacy of the deceased and those they interacted with on the platform. Consider contacting the platform's support team for advice on how to handle private messages or other sensitive information.
    • Terms of Service: Review the platform's terms of service regarding account inactivity, death, and data deletion. This can provide guidance on your rights and obligations when managing a deceased user's profile.
    • Memorialization Options: Some platforms may offer options to memorialize rather than delete a profile. This can be a way to preserve the memory of the deceased in a manner that's respectful and sensitive to the context of a dating platform.

    Privacy Considerations for Online Dating Profiles

    Handling a loved one's online dating profile requires a careful approach to privacy and ethics. Be mindful of the following:

    Sensitive Information Final Wishes Impact on Others
    Dating profiles can contain sensitive personal information and conversations. Ensure that any steps taken to manage the profile are done with respect to the deceased's privacy and the privacy of those they communicated with. If the deceased left instructions regarding their digital assets, including their dating profiles, follow these wishes as closely as possible. Consider the potential impact on the deceased's matches or contacts on the platform. Sudden profile deletion without explanation can be confusing or upsetting, so weigh the options carefully.

    Legal and Ethical Considerations

    Navigating the legal and ethical landscape of managing a deceased person's digital presence requires a nuanced understanding of digital rights, privacy laws, and the ethical implications of posthumous digital activity. This section aims to shed light on these considerations, offering guidance for those tasked with the responsibility of handling a loved one's digital legacy.

    Understanding Digital Rights and Privacy Laws

    Digital rights and privacy laws vary significantly across jurisdictions, impacting how one can legally access and manage a deceased person's online accounts. Key considerations include:

    • Access Rights: Laws determining who can legally access a deceased person's digital accounts often hinge on the presence of a will, the platform's terms of service, and local legal statutes. In many cases, explicit permission from the deceased, granted through a will or digital estate plan, is required for lawful access.
    • Data Protection and Privacy: Even after death, the privacy of the deceased's data is protected under laws like The Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA). These laws can restrict access to digital accounts and require legal authority to access them.
    • Estate Planning and Digital Assets: Including digital assets in estate planning is essential. Legal frameworks are evolving to address the management of digital assets, such as social media accounts, emails, and digital currencies in a person's will or estate plan.

    Ethical Implications of Posthumous Digital Activity

    Managing a deceased person's digital presence raises several ethical questions, including:

    Respect for the Deceased's Wishes
    Ethical management of digital assets involves adhering to the deceased's known wishes or making decisions that align with their values and preferences when no explicit instructions are left.
    Privacy of the Deceased and Their Contacts
    Ethically handling a deceased person's digital legacy includes safeguarding their privacy and the privacy of individuals whom they interacted with online. This might involve deciding how to manage private communications and sensitive information.
    Memorialization vs. Deletion
    Choosing whether to memorialize or delete digital accounts is a significant ethical decision. Memorialization can serve as a space for mourning and remembrance, while deletion can protect privacy and prevent identity theft.

    Proactive Planning and Your Digital Legacy

    Given the complexities surrounding digital legacies, proactive planning is advisable. This can involve:

    • Digital Estate Planning: Including digital assets in your estate plan, specifying how each account should be handled, and providing necessary information to trusted individuals.
    • Legal Documentation: Using legal tools, such as wills or trusts, to formalize your wishes for your digital legacy. 
    • Communication with Loved Ones: Discussing your digital legacy with family members or designated executors can alleviate the burden of decision-making and ensure your wishes are understood and respected.

    Planning for Your Digital Legacy

    This final section explores the importance of including digital assets in your will, navigates the legal landscape of digital estate planning, and introduces how an online will platform like Willful can simplify the process for individuals and their families.

    Importance of Including Digital Assets in Your Will

    Digital assets encompass a wide range of online accounts and digital files, including social media profiles, email accounts, digital photos and videos, online banking and investment accounts, and even cryptocurrency holdings. 

    Including these assets in your will ensures they are managed according to your wishes after your passing, preventing potential legal complications for your heirs and protecting your digital legacy from being lost or misused.

    Legal Aspects of Including Digital Assets in Estate Planning

    The legal framework surrounding digital assets in estate planning is evolving and varies by jurisdiction. Key considerations include:

    Specificity
    Estate planning documents should clearly outline each digital asset and provide explicit instructions for its management, ensuring executors have the authority to access and control these assets in line with your wishes.
    Access Information
    While it's crucial to maintain security and privacy, providing trusted individuals or legal representatives with the necessary information to access your digital assets (for example, login credentials and encryption keys) can be vital. However, strategies for sharing this information must comply with privacy laws and the terms of service agreements of online platforms.
    Legal Tools
    Tools such as digital wills, trusts, and powers of attorney can be employed to grant legal authority to individuals for managing your digital assets. Consultation with an estate planning attorney can help navigate the complexities of including digital assets in these documents.

    How Willful Can Assist in Digital Estate Planning

    Willful is an online estate planning platform that allows you to create legally-valid wills and powers of attorney documents tailored to your specific needs and province. 

    Planning for your digital legacy is an essential part of modern estate planning. By including digital assets in your will and utilizing services like Willful, you can make sure that your digital footprint is managed in a way that respects your wishes and legacy, providing peace of mind for you and your loved ones.

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