What To Do Online When a Loved One Dies
What happens to your digital stuff when you die?
Despite efforts by a few states, the U.S. and Canada don’t yet have consistent laws that treat digital data and accounts like physical goods, which can be distributed via an estate after death. As The Wall Street Journal reports, surviving families often find themselves stuck between estate laws (which would give them access to digital data) and privacy laws (which would forbid it).
Some people deal with these problems by creating what are called “social media wills” or simply leaving their passwords and druthers with a trusted person. Spouses sometimes share passwords with each other, for instance, as do some servicemen and women in active combat. There are also commercial services like LegacyLocker.com and SecureSafe.com that allow people to store all of their account information in one place.
Lawyers warn, though, that allowing someone else to access your account after your death–even with your express permission–could break the law because doing so violates the terms of service on many sites.
Without access to passwords and account details for the deceased, families that want to gain access to their loved ones’ data must work within the guidelines set out by the tech companies. Unfortunately, doing so can be a confusing maze because most Web companies approach these questions differently Google GOOG -0.17% for example won’t shut a Gmail account without a court order, while Facebook actively seeks to either shut down accounts belonging to the deceased, or “memorialize” them – a process that leaves the person’s Facebook account online for his existing friend network to see and interact with, but prevents anyone from logging in to it.
Here’s a guide to how some major Internet companies handle the accounts of the deceased as of the end of 2012.
– Won’t disclose passwords for Gmail or for its social network, Google+, or transfer ownership of an account.
– Won’t deactivate an account without a court order.
– May ...