It's almost always in the Terms of Service of every digital company (Google, Yahoo, Aol, Microsoft, Apple) to never share your account information with anyone other than you. For those unfamiliar with "Terms of Service," it's that endless scroll of legalese you must agree to when using a service. Not many people have the time or inclination to read this because it's often confusing, quite boring and very long.
Our view: What you do with your digital account is your business. If you want to have your friends or family go into your account and delete it after you die, it's your call. (Just be sure and create a digital estate first!) If you want to abide by the TOS and have your friends or family go through the required channels to close an account, that's your call too.
Let's say you don't want to share your account name and password with anyone. This means your family or friends will be going the official route. Keep this in mind: Not all email accounts are created equal. Some companies like Google and Microsoft, outline their policies really well. Apple's iCloud, on the other hand, not so much. Here are all the details you need taken directly from the source.
Accessing a deceased person's mail
If you need access to the Gmail account content of an individual who has passed away, in rare cases we may be able to provide the contents of the Gmail account to an authorized representative of the deceased person.
At Google, we’re keenly aware of the trust users place in us, and we take our responsibility to protect the privacy of people who use Google services very seriously. Any decision to provide the contents of a deceased person’s email will be made only after a careful review.
If you are the authorized representative of a deceased person and wish to proceed with an application to obtain the contents of a deceased person’s Gmail account, please carefully review the following information regarding our two stage process:
We require the following information:
1. Your full name
2. Your physical mailing address
3. Your email address
4. A photocopy of your government-issued ID or driver’s license
5. The Gmail address of the deceased person
6. The death certificate of the deceased person. If the document is not in English, please provide a certified English translation that has been prepared by a competent translator and notarized
7. The following information from an email message that you have received at your email address, from the Gmail address in question:
• The full header from the email message. See instructions on how to find headers in Gmail and other webmail email providers. Copy everything from ‘Delivered-To:’ to ‘Content-Type:’
• The entire content of the message
Mail or fax this information to:
Google Inc. Gmail User Support –
c/o Google Custodian of Records
1600 Amphitheatre Parkway
Mountain View, CA 94043
After a review, you will be notified by email and informed whether we will be able to move beyond Part 1 to the next steps of the process. In some cases, this waiting period may take up to a few months. During this process, please be aware that Google will not delete the deceased person’s account before responding to your request. If we are able to move forward based on our preliminary review, we will send further instructions outlining Part 2. Part 2 will require you to get additional legal documents, including an order from a U.S. court and/or additional materials.
Please note that submitting these materials will not guarantee that we will be able to provide Gmail content so we strongly recommend not embarking on Part 2 until you hear back from us regarding Part 1. Because of our concerns for user privacy, if we determine that we cannot provide the Gmail content, we will not be able to share further details about the account or discuss our decision. Once again, we offer our condolences to you at this time and appreciate your patience and understanding.
Google also goes a step further with something called "Inactive Account Manager," which is a way to either share or delete your account after a set period of inactivity. Here's how they describe it:
What should happen to your photos, emails and documents when you stop using your account? Google puts you in control.
You might want your data to be shared with a trusted friend or family member, or, you might want your account to be deleted entirely. There are many situations that might prevent you from accessing or using your Google account. Whatever the reason, we give you the option of deciding what happens to your data.
Using Inactive Account Manager, you can decide if and when your account is treated as inactive, what happens with your data and who is notified.
Step 1: Timeout period
You set a timeout period, after which your account can be treated as inactive. The timeout period starts with your last sign-in to your Google account.
Step 2: Alert me
Inactive Account Manager will alert you via text message and optionally email before the timeout period ends.
Step 3: Notify contacts and share data
Add trusted contacts who should be made aware that you are no longer using your account. You can also share data with them if you like.
Step 4: Optionally delete account
If you wish, instruct Google to delete your account on your behalf.
To set up Inactive Account Manager, go to your Settings Page, click on Data Tools and then click "Set up Inactive Account Manager"
Options available when a Yahoo Account owner passes away
We know that dealing with the loss of a relative is very difficult. To protect the privacy of your loved one, it is our policy to honor the initial agreement that they made with us, even in the event of their passing.
At the time of registration, all account holders agree to the Yahoo's Terms (TOS). [Note: Yahoo's parent company is now called Oath] Pursuant to the TOS, neither the Yahoo account nor any of the content therein are transferable, even when the account owner is deceased. As a result, Yahoo cannot provide passwords or access to deceased users' accounts, including account content such as email.
Yahoo does have a process in place to request that your loved one's account be closed, billing and premium services suspended, and any contents permanently deleted for privacy.
Requesting to close the account
In order to process this kind of request, we require specific documentation:
A letter containing your request and stating the Yahoo ID of the deceased
A copy of a document appointing the requesting party as the personal representative or executor of the estate of the deceased;
A copy of the death certificate of the Yahoo account holder
Send the information to our Legal Department
Fax: (408) 349-7941
Customer Service Number: 800-318-0612
701 First Avenue
Sunnyvale, CA, 94089-0703
Again, we extend our condolences to you and your family.
Microsoft (Hotmail.com, Outlook.com, Live.com, Windowslive.com, MSN.com)
Get comfy because Microsoft offers the most comprehensive instructions:
Microsoft Next of Kin Process: What to do in the event of the death or incapacitation of a loved one with a Outlook.com account.
If you have lost a family member, or have a family member who has become medically incapacitated, the following information will help you contact Microsoft regarding their Outlook.com account.
What can Microsoft provide me with in relation to my family member’s Outlook.com account?
The Microsoft Next of Kin process allows for the release of Outlook.com contents, including all emails and their attachments, address book, and Messenger contact list, to the next of kin of a deceased or incapacitated account holder and/or closure of the Microsoft account, following a short authentication process. We cannot provide you with the password to the account or change the password on the account, and we cannot transfer ownership of the account to the next of kin. Account contents are released by way of a data DVD which is shipped to you.
Unfortunately, the Next of Kin department cannot assist you with password resets, account recovery, or any other support for your own account.
What products does the Microsoft Next of Kin process support?
At this time, the Microsoft Next of Kin process supports only Outlook.com accounts (email accounts ending in @outlook.com, @hotmail.com, @live.com, @windowslive.com, or @msn.com). We do not provide support for SkyDrive, MSN Dial-up, or Xbox Live.
How do I request the contents of my family member’s account, or request the closure of the account?
In order to request that the contents of the email account be released to you, or to request the closure of the account, please contact the Microsoft Custodian of Records by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org to initiate the process. To process your request, we require that you provide some information about the account as well as copies of documentation to verify the status of the account holder and your kinship. Please refer to “What information and documentation will I need to provide for the next of kin process?”
Please also provide us with an email address where we can reach you in case we have any follow-up questions and so we can notify you of the status of your request.
What documentation will I need to provide for the next of kin process?
In order to prove that you are legal next of kin and that the account holder is deceased or incapacitated, we require the following documentation:
1) An official death certificate for the user, if the user is deceased. Unfortunately, we cannot accept anything other than an official, government issued death certificate. Examples of documents which we cannot accept are:
a. An obituary
b. A coroner’s interim death certificate
c. A coroner’s statement of inquest into a death
d. A funeral director’s statement of services performed
2) A certified document signed by a medical professional in charge of the care of the user, if the user is incapacitated. A note signed by the doctor in charge and notarized will suffice, as will a signed court document showing that you have power of attorney or executorship of a trust for the account holder.
3) A Document showing that you are the user’s next of kin and/or executor or benefactor of their estate, or that you have power of attorney. We accept any of the following documents as proof of kinship or executor status:
a. A marriage certificate showing that you are the surviving spouse of the account holder.
b. Signed power of attorney paperwork.
c. A copy of a will or trust document naming you as executor or beneficiary.
d. A birth certificate for the user, if you are their parent; or guardianship paperwork for legal guardians.
4) A photocopy of your government issued photo ID.
What information will I need to know about the Outlook.com account?
We require answers to all of the following questions about the account holder’s email account.
1) What is or are the email address or addresses?
2) What is the first and last name that the account holder used when creating the account?
3) What is the date of birth that the account holder gave when creating the account?
4) What city, state, and zip code (for U.S. users) or country did the account holder enter as their place of residence when the account was created?
5) Approximately when was the account created? This doesn’t need to be anything specific. “During the late 1990s,” or “Around 2004” are perfectly acceptable answers.
6) Approximately when was the account last accessed? It is important that you tell us if you have been checking the account past the account holder’s date of death, or if you suspect that the account has been accessed by an unauthorized individual after the account holder’s death.
7) Your shipping address, if you are requesting a copy of the contents of the account. Please note that we cannot ship to a P.O. Box. Since your shipment will be coming from the U.S., please include your shipping address in the following format:
b. Street Address
e. Zip/Postal Code
g. Contact Phone Number
8) What type of computer you use, if you are requesting a copy of the contents of the account. We support PC, Mac, and Linux users, but we need to know what type of computer you use for preservation purposes.
How do I submit my documentation once I’ve gathered it?
Once you’ve gathered your documentation, you may submit it to us in any of the following three ways:
1) You may scan and email the documents to us at email@example.com.
2) You may fax the documentation to us at (425) 708-7851 .
3) You may mail copies of the documentation to us at:
Next of Kin
One Microsoft Way
Redmond, WA 98052
Please do not send originals of any of the documents, as all documents will be shredded upon completion of the verification process.
It’s going to take a while for me to gather all of this information, should I wait to contact you until I have everything?
We understand that it can take time to gather all of the necessary documents and submit them to Microsoft. We ask that you contact us at your earliest convenience to notify us of your request. This will allow us to complete a preservation of all of the data currently in the email account to prevent it from being deleted due to inactivity. Once you contact us, we will complete this preservation immediately, and will maintain it for a period of one year from the date of your initial response. After one year, your case will be closed and the account preservation will be deleted.
I have some of the documentation right now, but not all of it. Can I submit what I have while I gather the rest?
Certainly. We will maintain any documentation which you submit while we wait for you to submit any remaining pieces of documentation. Please bear in mind the one year timeline for all cases.
What happens if the verification process fails?
If for any reason we are unable to successfully verify that the email account belongs to the appropriate account holder, the account holder’s status, or your kinship; we will advise you that the verification process has failed. If this happens, we are prohibited from explaining specifically which piece or pieces of information did not match. We will ask for a completely new package of documentation, as well as any additional information you can give us which you think may help you pass the verification process on a subsequent attempt. Please note, however, that we can only allow a total of three (3) attempts to pass the verification process.
What languages do you accept documentation in?
We prefer that all documentation be submitted in English, or that you provide certified translations to English for all of your documents. Certified translations can be costly, however, and if you cannot provide a translation, we may provide translation assistance for some languages. Unfortunately, we are current unable to provide translation assistance for any language that uses an alphabet other than the standard Latin alphabet; Japanese, Cyrillic, or Arabic, for example.
How long should I expect the Next of Kin process to take?
Once you have contacted us with your initial request, you should expect to hear back within 24 business hours, The verification process should take no more than 48 business hours, at which point you will be notified that either the verification process was successful, and we are in the process of shipping you a data DVD with the contents of the account, or that we have closed the account, depending upon your request; or that verification has failed. Because we ship from the U.S., delivery times may vary depending on the shipping location. If we are shipping the data disc overseas, please expect up to 10 business days after receiving the notification that the DVD has been shipped.
What happens if I don’t receive my shipment, or if the disc is damaged?
If you do not receive your shipment within 7 days, please contact us by firstname.lastname@example.org and we will track the package to determine its status. If the tracking states that the package has been delivered, but you did not receive it; or if the tracking states that the package has been lost, or if you receive a damaged disc, we will ship a new copy. Discs are encrypted to prevent unauthorized access and the password will be provided separately from the disc.
If you are having trouble accessing the data, please contact us by emailing email@example.com and we will provide step by step instructions to assist you.
My family member passed away some time ago, will you still be able to assist me?
Unfortunately, in most cases email account contents are deleted after 365 days of inactivity, and the account itself is deleted after an additional 1 month; for a total of one year and 1 month. Once that happens, we are unable to recover any of the data from the account. We would recommend that you still contact us, however, in case the account has not yet been deleted.
Aol (America Online)
America Online is quite simple, but you might have to wade through account pages and spend some time on the phone.
How do I close an AOL account of a family member who has passed away?
We're very sorry for your loss.
In the unfortunate event of a death of the billing contact for an AOL account, ownership can easily be transferred to another AOL Username already listed under the account.
The billing contact's name appears on the credit card used for the AOL account. You can change the payment information online through My Account if you have the deceased master Username, Password and Account Security Question. If you don't know this information, please click the Contact AOL Customer Service link to the right of this page for more information on contacting AOL Customer Support Team.
Note: If you don't own a Username on the AOL account and would like to make changes to the account, please contact one of our AOL Customer Support Team Representatives at 1-800-827-6364.
Apple iCloud (Mac.com, Me.com)
The following appears in the iCloud Terms of Service:
No Right of Survivorship
You agree that your Account is non-transferable and that any rights to your Apple ID or Content within your Account terminate upon your death. Upon receipt of a copy of a death certificate your Account may be terminated and all Content within your Account deleted. Contact iCloud Support at www.apple.com/support/icloud for further assistance.
Upon clicking the support link you're thrown into the massive support section. We suggest starting with their Get Support section and, if you're still getting nowhere, calling their main support number: 1-800-275-2273