What Happens to Online Accounts After Death?

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What happens to online accounts after someone dies? The quick answer is no one really knows–or rather, different entities have different protocols. Policies and laws are still being formed to answer this question. This is an aspect of estate planning that affects us all, but is still a bit murky. I reached out to Maija West of Moxie Lab. She has advised clients and written on this topic in a piece titled Get Your Internet House in Order. I’ll share some of her insight as well as other articles that have emerged recently.

Maija recommends that you “keep a private list of your passwords (either on your computer or with your estate planning documents in hard copy) to allow your executor or personal representative to find them with ease.” This is a good place to start, but as you’ll see, there is more to consider than a password list alone. For instance, according to this BBC article, it might be illegal to log into an account even if you were given permission by the deceased account holder. It states that, “Using the login details left by a dead family member is potentially illegal. The terms and conditions of most established online services state that nobody other than the owner is allowed to use the account.”

This is a great piece from the New York Times, which Maija references, that highlights Google’s unique approach. Google has a step-by-step process allowing users to plan what they want done with their account, and will sometimes provide the contents of an email account which hasn’t left specific instructions, after a review. this is different from other companies who have a more guarded approach. I think it is particularly interesting to see how Google will handle this because they have the power to set precedent which other smaller companies in the same space would be expected to follow. Also, if done well, it could save families the hassle and expense of taking companies to court to access the personal digital effects of their loved ones.

You might have heard about celebrity disputes with iTunes, such as the one with Bruce Willis covered here. Fortunately, the transfer of online banking and brokerage accounts is more straightforward. They generally grant access to the person handling your estate once legal documentation of your death is confirmed. This process is a little different depending on the estate planning documents (or lack thereof) that you have.

Whether it’s digital or otherwise, remember that estate planning is an important part of your overall financial plan. Make sure to consider it along with tax and risk management as well as prudent savings and investing in order to SaveUp!

This post was written by SaveUp’s personal finance contributing writer, Catherine Hawley, CFP®.

Image source: Good Housekeeping

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Written by Catherine Hawley

Catherine is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER (TM) who offers accessible and objective financial advice to individuals and families. Her aim is to help clients gain clarity and confidence so they can pursue their definition of financial success. You can find more information about her independent practice at www.catherinehawley.com. She has worked at Rhodes & Fletcher, LLC as a Personal Benefits Specialist and at the firms of Bernstein Global Wealth Management and Barclayʼs Global Investors. Catherine has a bachelors degree in communication studies from the University of California, Los Angeles where she was a scholarship athlete and captain of the womenʼs tennis team.