Email is an extremely popular form of communication in both the business and personal communication. Today’s email systems are based on a store-and-forward model. Email servers accept, forward, deliver and store messages.
While no one denies the obvious productivity gains we’ve realized from the efficiencies of email communication, most of us are unaware of as to how to access a deceased person’s email.
How to Access a Deceased Person`s Email Account?
When a person passes away, what happens to his email account and all the messages and sensitive information that reside in it? Unlike the shoebox in the attic that any living family member can get their hands on, online accounts are password protected and hence present a problem. Web email services owned by internet giants such as Google, Microsoft and Yahoo have different view on this issue. The question to be considered is: is it honorable to scour through the belongings of a dead person and read his personal emails or messages? Google and Microsoft say ‘Yes’, Yahoo says ‘No’. Google and Microsoft have a policy of keeping your data after you die and letting your next of kin or the executor of your estate access it. Unfortunately, there is no way for users to avoid this from happening and no recourse under existing laws. Yahoo, on the other hand, strictly disallows access to a user’s account.
Read below the different policies and procedure of gaining access to a deceased person’s account.
Gmail allows the next of kin to apply for access to adeceased user’s email account, but the person would have to prove their ownidentity and supply a death certificate as well as proof of an emailconversation between them and the deceased.
If you are trying to access adeceased person’s Gmail account, you have to send in the following materials:
[*]Your full name, physical mailing address, and verifiable email address.A photocopy of your government issued ID or driver’s license.The Gmail address of the individual who passed away.The full header from an email message that you have received at yourverifiable email address, from the Gmail address in question. (To obtain theheader from a message in Gmail, open the message, click the down arrow next toReply, at the top-right of the message pane, and select ‘Show original.’) Thefull headers will appear in a new window. Copy everything from ‘Delivered-To:’through the ‘References:’ line.The entire contents of the message.Proof of deathOne of the following: a) if the decedent was 18 or older, provide aProbate- or other Court Order stating that you are the lawful representativeof the deceased’s estate or b) if the decedent was under the age of 18 and youare the parent of the individual, provide a copy of the decedent’s birthcertificate.
These need to be mailed to:
Attention: Gmail User Support- Decedents’ Accounts
Mountain View, CA 94043
Or faxed to: 650-644-0358
After youhave sent all the information to the above address, Google will need 30 days tovalidate and process your submission..
Windows Live Hotmail(Microsoft)
Windows Live Hotmail has a policy of deleting emailaccounts if they are not logged into for 270 days. If you die, your next of kinwould be able to access your account within that period by proving theiridentity and supplying a death certificate.
To claim a user’s account, youhave to first send an email to email@example.com. Uponreceipt of the email, Microsoft will preserve the specified account for a periodof six months during which you have to furnish the required documents, whichare:[*]A photocopy of the death certificate for the userPaperwork stating that you are the benefactor or executor to thedeceased’s estate and/or that you have Power of Attorney and are next-of-kin.A photocopy of your driver’s license or a government issuedidentification.A document with answers to the following questions about the account, forverification purposes:
Account nameFirst and Last name on the accountDate of BirthCity, state and zip codeApproximate date of account creationApproximate last date of sign in
[*]A physical mailing addressAll documentation should be faxed to425-708-0096 or send via postal mail to:
Attn: OnlineServices Custodian of Records
1065 La Avenida, Building 4
Mountain View,CA, 94043
Once the verification is completed, Microsoft will send therequested account information on a CD-ROM via mail courier. More information on this page.
Unlike Google and Microsoft, Yahoo’s policy is that they willnot grant next of kin access to deceased users’ accounts unless there is acourt order from a judge. The deceased user’s next of kin, however, can ask forthe account to be closed, but Yahoo will not give them access to it. I don’tknow about others, but I like Yahoo’s stance on this.
FromYahoo’s terms of service:
Terms of service #27: No Right of Survivorship andNon-Transferability.You agree that your Yahoo! account is non-transferable andany rights to your Yahoo! ID or contents within your account terminateupon your death. Upon receipt of a copy of a death certificate, youraccount may be terminated and all contents therein permanentlydeleted.
A Yahoo spokespersonsaid:
The commitment Yahoo! makes to every person who signs up fora Yahoo! Mail account is to treat their email as a private communicationand to treat the content of their messages as confidential.
Internetusers who want to be sure their email and other online accounts areaccessible to their legal heirs may want to work with their attorneys toplan an offline process for such access as part of their estate planningprocess.
Facebookhas a policy similar to Yahoo’s. It believes in respecting and protecting aperson’s privacy even after the person’s death. Coming from Facebook, thisis quite ironic. From Facebook’s Help page:
Please note that in order to protect the privacy of the deceaseduser, we cannot provide login information for the account to anyone. Wedo honour requests from close family members to close the accountcompletely.
Facebook also has a feature that allows friends and family members to “memorialize” the profiles of deceased users. Once the user’s death is confirmed, Facebook will set the privacy settings so that only confirmed friends can see the profile or locate it in search. They will also remove sensitive information such as contact information and status updates. Memorializing an account also prevents anyone from logging into it in the future, while still enabling friends and family to leave posts on the profile Wall in remembrance.
[b]How to Plan Ahead
In the online world, there isn’t a standard procedure forhow to access your loved one’s online accounts. The best way to ensure that youronline accounts fall into the right hands once you are gone is to followYahoo’s advice and create a will, or assign a heir to your online accountsdigitally through services such as Entrustet.
Entrustet is a free service thathelps you take stock of all your digital assets and assign an heir to accessthem when you pass away. Just set up a free account and then add all theaccounts you want to be passed on. You can then add heirs for your variousonline account, individually. For instance, you can pass your YouTube account toSam while your Twitter account to Judy.