Managing Online Accounts — Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, and Apple

These days, when someone passes away they likely have numerous online accounts, including those for email or social media. As executor you or the deceased’s loved ones might want to access these to get copies of emails, photographs, and more.

Each company has varying rules about privacy, but some will work to help you get this information as long as you can provide them with the needed documentation.

Facebook

If the deceased had a Facebook account you will have several options as to how to handle the account. First, you can contact Facebook and request that the account be closed. You also may request that the account be memorialized.

If you choose to memorialize the account, Facebook will take measures to secure the privacy of the deceased by securing the account. They will add the word “remembering” before the person’s name. They also will work to prevent references to the deceased that might be upsetting to loved ones from appearing on Facebook. These references include birthday reminders for the deceased or listing them as “people you may know” suggestions. Anything the person had shared on Facebook will remain visible only to the audience it was shared with originally. Depending on the privacy settings that the person had set, visitors to the page might be able to share memories on the timeline.

Regardless of whether you request for the account to be closed or memorialized, Facebook requires you to submit a request online through their help center. The help center is at https://www.facebook.com/help and if you type in “deceased,” more information will be provided. Keep in mind, under no circumstances will Facebook provide account passwords to you.

Please note that Facebook now has the option for users to decide what they would like to happen to their account when they die. They can appoint legacy contacts to manage their account. As executor, you might want to ask loved ones if they know whether the deceased had made such arrangements.

Google/Gmail

Google will, under certain circumstances, provide content from a deceased person’s account but will not release passwords or any other information that will help someone log onto another person’s account. The company states that they have an obligation of confidentiality, even after a person’s death.

Google officials will work with executors or family members to close the account of a deceased person, but will require proof of death. A request for account closure or content information can be submitted at https://support.google.com/accounts/contact/deceased. Google does warn it cannot guarantee it will be able to help and even if they can, a decision could take months as they will need to carefully review the request and any information submitted.

Like Facebook, Google does allow account holders to make decision as to what will happen to their account when they die or stop using it.

Google has what they call “inactive account manager.” By visiting https://www.google.com/settings/account/inactive, an account holder can set up the account to close after a period of inactivity. This period of inactivity can range from three months to up to 18 months after the last sign-in. An account holder also can add the names of up to 10 people they permit account information to be shared with after the set time of inactivity. Just in case the period of inactivity is due to some reason other than death, Google will alert the account holder a month before closing the account or sharing any account information.

Yahoo

Yahoo honors the privacy agreement between user and the company even after a user dies. As a result, the account is non-transferable and no password information will be shared with anyone. Unlike Google, Yahoo will not even consider providing any content, such as emails.

The only thing that can be requested, with a death certificate, is that the account be closed. In order to do that, you must send the deceased’s Yahoo email address, proof of executorship, and a copy of the death certificate. These can be emailed to legalpoc-support@yahoo-inc.com or mailed to Yahoo! Inc., 701 First Avenue, Sunnyvale, CA, 94089-0703.

Microsoft (Hotmail.com, Outlook.com, Live.com, Windowslive.com, MSN.com)

Microsoft has what they call a “next of kin” process for situations in which an account holder dies or becomes medically incapacitated.

The process, with proper authentication, allows for the release of a data DVD containing the account holder’s emails, attachments, address book, and messenger contact list to the next of kin. They will not provide the password to the account or change it. They also will not transfer ownership of the account to another person.

In order to request contents of an account or closure of an account for a deceased’s person, you should email msrecord@microsoft.com and attach a copy of the death certificate, a copy of the will or trust showing that you are executor of their estate, and a photocopy of your driver’s license or other government-issued photo id. You also will need to include the deceased’s email address or addresses, the first and last name on the account, the date of birth they gave when they signed up for the account, and the city, state, and zip code they listed as their place of residence when signing up. You also should include the approximate date when the account was created and the approximate date when the account was last accessed. Provide your shipping address and phone number so that the data DVD can be sent to you. The disc cannot be sent to a P.O. Box. Finally, tell them what type of computer you will be using the data DVD on.

If you prefer not to scan and email this information, you can fax it to (425) 708-7851 or mail copies of the needed documents to Next of Kin, One Microsoft Way, Redmond, WA, 98052.

Microsoft recommends contacting them as soon as possible even if you don’t have all the necessary information. By contacting them quickly, they can ensure the account isn’t closed due to inactivity, which typically occurs after 13 months. You can then submit information as you gather it or wait until you have it all and submit it at once.

Apple iCloud (Mac.com, Me.com)

Apple does not provide any details about an account of a deceased’s person. They will, however, close the account and delete all information if you provide them with a death certificate. They can be contacted at https://www.apple.com/support/icloud or by calling 800-692-7753.