What happens to your online digital assets if you die?

Sunken Cemetery, Camiguin island, The Philippines
Sunken Cemetery, Camiguin island, The Philippines - Surreal as it may sound, but taking care of your "Digital Assets" has become as important as your physical assets

What happens to your email, website and social networking accounts when you die?

I’ve asked quite a few people about this. As you know from my previous article about what happens if you die when traveling overseas? It’s been something I’ve had to come to terms with lately.

One of the big questions I was not really prepared for at the time was: What’s going happen to my email and website if I die?

Not much is known nor talked about when it comes to managing your digital assets. Mostly because, well, the internet is still very young. Let’s face it, things really only took off in the last 25 years.

Not too many of the .com generation have kicked the bucket enough to entice the legal world to start enforcing a few things.

But, for more the curious out there, here are some facts and tips that will help you out. Or rather, might be of benefit to your family should you decide to pass away, or are unable to function normally due to hospitalization, illness or accident.

What happens to your email if you die?

Before we start here, a brief reminder. These days web-based email providers, such as the ones below, provide gigabytes of storage. Meaning tens of thousands of your mails could potentially be read by a family member should you pass away.

You might need to consider the pro’s and con’s of that.

Gmail requirements for next of kin to get access to your account:

Strangely Google’s Gmail has potentially the best policy for a family member in gaining access to your email account.

Gmail will let your next of kin get an archive of all your mail (image © Google)

They require the following:

  • Your (next of kin or legal executor) complete name
  • Your physical mailing address
  • Your email address
  • A photocopy of your government-issued ID or driver’s license
  • The Gmail address of the deceased user
  • The death certificate of the deceased user. If the document is not in English, provide a certified English translation prepared by a competent translator and notarized

Note: Gmail does not delete the deceased user’s account, but says the next of kin could choose to do so after gaining access to it.

How to submit this information to Google:

Send a document including the above information via fax or mail to Google. It should take about 30 days to process your request:

Fax: 650-644-0358

Mailing address: Google Inc., Gmail User Support – Decedents’ Accounts,1600 Amphitheatre Parkway, Mountain View, CA 94043

If you fail to provide adequate information, Google reserves the right for legal process including an order from a U.S. court and/or submitting additional materials

There’s more information on Google’s Decedents’ Accounts page

Note: Lately Google has come under fire for their naming policy. eg, your must have a real “sounding” name to have a google profile. Do remember to let your next of kin know this in case you have a pseudonym or gimmick name aka lalagoestoperutobuyallama@gmail etc. Otherwise, they won’t get access to your google account. 

Hotmail requirements for next of kin to get access to your account:

Hotmail will provide you with a CD containing all the deceased’s contacts, emails e.t.c. They will not allow you access to the account. They will close the account should you request it.

Hotmail will send your family a CD of all your mail (image ©MSN)

They require the following:

  • An e-mail address that can be used to contact you in case of questions
  • A shipping address to ship the data to (Note: they cannot send data to a P.O. box)
  • A document that states that you are the benefactor or the executor to the deceased’s estate and/or that you have power of attorney for an incapacitated customer and/or are next of kin
  • A photocopy of your driver’s license or other government issued identification
  • A photocopy of the death certificate or, for an incapacitated customer, a signed note from the attending physician attesting to the incapacitated state of the customer
  • Account name (Note: include the account name on all page of any faxed or mailed documents)
  • First and last name of the person who owns the account
  • Date of birth
  • City, state, and ZIP Code/Postal Code
  • The approximate date of account creation
  • The approximate date of last sign in

The above details along with a request should be sent, all at once, to:

Fax number: (425) 708-7851

Fax number for those outside the United States: 001 (425) 708-7851

Attention: Custodian of Records


Mail to: Next of Kin, One Microsoft Way, Redmond, WA 98052

Yahoo mail won't let your family have anything! (image ©Yahoo)

Full details of Hotmail’s request for data from a deceased users account

Yahoo requirements for next of kin to get access to your account:

They will not give anyone access, period. They do however confirm, that if a user has left log-in details, including password in a will, the next of kin can access the account. Otherwise they will refer you to their policy:

“No Right of Survivorship and Non-Transferability. You agree that your Yahoo! account is non-transferable and any rights to your Yahoo! ID or contents within your account terminate upon your death. Upon receipt of a copy of a death certificate, your account may be terminated and all contents therein permanently deleted.”

What happens to your social networks if you die?

Social networks have become apart of many people’s lives. What happens to your social network when your life on earth stops?

Facebook’s policy on your death

Facebook has an interesting feature where they offer to close the account or memorialize the profile of a deceased user.

When a Facebook member is memorialized, only current “friends” will be able to locate it and leave a message of remembrance (customizable by the next of kin). Let’s hope none of your friends are spammers!

Facebook don’t allow you access to the account.

Here’s a link to Facebook’s Report a dead person’s profile form that can be filled up by the next of kin. Or, possibly anyone else judging by the look of it (sorry, wouldn’t be me if I couldn’t throw some facebook digs in there! Good thing Zuckerburg is not a hippie!) 

Twitter’s policy on your death

Twitter will allow the next of kin to both close the account, and obtain an archive of all the deceased’s public tweets.

Twitter will let your next of kin have an archive of all your tweets! (image ©Twitter)

Twitter requires:

  • Your first and last name, contact information (including email address), and your relationship to the deceased person.
  • The username of the Twitter account, or a link to the account’s public profile page.
  • A link to a public obituary article.

All sent to either:
Email: [email protected]
Fax: 415-222-9958
Mail: Twitter Inc., c/o: Trust & Safety
, 795 Folsom Street, Suite 600
, San Francisco, CA 94107, U.S.A.
More information is available on Twitters page on contacting them about a deceased user

Linkedin’s policy upon your death

Linkedin will allow you to close a deceased users account by simply submitting their online form. Again, one wonders if somebody up to no good could make use of this?

Here’s a link to Linkedin’s “Verification of Death Form”

PayPal’s policy on your death

PayPal will only use the original user to close an account. They require an executor to contact them directly to release any funds currently being held within the account of the deceased.

They require the following:

To close the account of someone who died, the estate executor needs to fax the following to (402) 537-5732:

  • A cover sheet that states the account holder is deceased and the executor wants to close the PayPal account
  • A copy of the death certificate for the account holder
  • A copy of the deceased account holder’s will or legal documentation that provides the information regarding the executor
  • A copy of a photo ID of the executor

The documentation will be reviewed and, if approved, the account will be closed. If there are funds in the PayPal account, a check will be issued in the account holder’s name.

More information can be found on PayPal’s help center

What happens to your online photos when you die?


Owned by Yahoo, will keep an account open with photos viewable by the public. But, they will not allow next of kin to access them. Next of Kin can close the account following the same procedure as above for a yahoo account.

What happens your laptop and hard drives when you die?

How many people know your laptop password? Or know where all your hard drive backups are? Are they all also encrypted with some 256 mega encrypted password that not even homeland security can break into?  Again, you might want to think about this.

Back up hard drives are usually offline, meaning is there really a need to keep changing the passwords frequently like your online ones? If not, then you might want to tell a select family member what they are, just in case. Likewise, if you are traveling, telling a family member your laptop password back home could help both you and them out a lot should you become incapacitated.

While there are many “hacking” ways around these thing to gain access to your offline files, remember that your family or next of kin might not be comfortable with these methods.

You may have given the copyright of your photographs or written works to someone should you die, but if they can’t access them, then they’re not much good to anyone anymore!

It’s great to have all your things secured so no one but you can access them, but sometimes being over paranoid about it can lead to some great difficulties for your family should you no longer be around.

What happens to your blog or website when you die?

This is a huge topic given the diversity of websites. Do understand the difference between domain name eg www.thelongestwayhome.com and hosting. You’ll need to think about both.

Hosted blogs

If you have a blog that’s apart of a blog network e.g. “example.blogger.com” or  “example.wordpress.com” e.t.c., you’ll need to deal with the parent companies and their polices. There are simply too many to list here. However similar protocols as listed for getting access to emails will be required. The difference here is “content”.

The Longest Way Home front page
What happens to great websites when the owners die?

According to one legal expert: “You can bequeath your copyright to others,”

Self hosted blogs & websites:

If you own your own domain name eg. www.thelongestwayhome.com or www.google.com you will more than likely also look after your own hosting too.

Similar to hosted blogs, you will need to to provide much more than mere logins to your next of kin. Domain registration names, passwords, hosting account details, and business dealings will all need to be recorded along with a lot more listed below!

Things to include in your Will when passing on your blog or website: 

  • Include full login details of your domain registrar’s
  • Contact details and login details of your hosting companies
  • Login details for your blog or website
  • If possible, give the location and details of where you have stored backups of databases, designs, themes, content e.t.c.
  • Make a list of all revenue sources for your website e.g. Adsense login details, PayPal (financial translator) details, affiliate details
  • Include a list of contact details for people you regularly do business with online
  • Include a list of contact details of public people/websites/blogs/social network contacts you had frequent contact with to notify them
  • Be sure who (if any) you want to leave your contents copyright to!
  • Give detailed instructions on how your blog or site runs, income sources, and what you want to happen to it e.t.c.
  • Give detailed instructions on your online financial accounts, including taxes, payments due, subscriptions e.t.c.

Note: if you plan to bequeath your blog/website to a family member, do remember that they might have no idea about how to run, or even access anything like a website!

Things to keep in mind about running a website after you have died!

There will be a lot of work for whomever you left your website to after you have died. It’s important to keep this in mind, and take care of as much as possible for them before hand.

  • Depending on your wishes, you may want someone to notify the public about your death on your website/s
  • You might want to consider how long you want your site running for
  • Who will fund the websites running costs?
  • If the website is generating income, where should it go, and who will manage it?
  • Remind them to make sure everything is transferred to their name!
  • Make sure all your online partners, or business associates are made aware of your wishes, and changes that may occur
  • Remember to delegate copyright of your original content to someone
  • Should you wish the website to continue publishing, selling e.t.c., then you might want to give wishes of any future direction you had planned for it

Some helpful resources for dealing with your digital assets, before you die!

Passwords and logins are, and will be the biggest hurdle to overcome for your family.We are told to change them regularly to prevent malicious hackers from accessing our data.

As such, if we write them into a Will, a few months later they can become irrelevant. So, what do you do?


  • Hire the same lawyer who will be handling your will and set up an arrangement to email them every 2-3 months with new passwords/login details. I would suggest paying for this service before hand, rather than later. It’s simply a matter of them filing away your emails whenever they arrive.

The secondary benefit here is that they will also be automatically alerted should your emails cease for some reason.

  • Use an online password storage tool like KeePass, LastPass, AnyPassword e.t.c. Save a master copy password which can be sent to your next of kin, lawyer e.t.c.  (online password tools save all your passwords, even the ones you change frequently)
  • Use an online storage service to save all your important data securely
  • Use a service like deadmansswitch.net or deathswitch.com to help monitor if you are still alive and online, if they suspect you are incapacitated, they’ll start taking the steps you requested them to! eg contact your family e.t.c.
  • Assetlock.net allows you to designate one family member that will be given a secure key to access you information
  • Datainherit.comestateplusplus.com and executorsresource.com allow you to designate one or more people to access your private documents
  • Eternitymessage.com allows you to send an email to one or more people one to sixty years into the future
  • Ifidie.org will send you regular emails to check if you are still around. If not, they will send out emails you’ve pre-written to selected people
  • thedigitalbeyond.com is a site set up with many after death digital resources and articles

** Keep in mind that you should do a full check on any company before handing over any personal information. 

** If you do use a service like one of the above to manage your future wishes, do insure that the company will still be around in the future too! 

Final notes, on your final departure

Technology has simply far outpaced laws written to assure the physical disposition of tangible assets.

Assets such as real estate, vehicles, liquid physical assets and other items of worth can easily be recorded and dealt with upon a person’s death. But, these laws were created before the Internet and have not been updated clearly or recently enough to deal with the digital age and digital assets.

A car has written proof of ownership that’s recorded in several places. So to do digital assets, only the majority are probably just stored in your inbox; where no one can access them should you die or become incapacitated

As a result, many old school lawyers and legal firms are quite unsure of what to do in many cases. Often resulting in expensive and lengthy cases. In my estimation, in this day and age of digital information; it’s vital that you put your best foot forward and take care of everything yourself beforehand.

If anything, just being able to find records alone will help those left behind overcome what will surely be a difficult process to deal with in its own right.

Update 2012:

In the U.S.A. Uniform Law Commission has approved a study committee on power of attorney and authority to access digital property and online accounts during incapacity and after death. Such laws come into effect when there is little or no current legislation for states within the U.S.A. to follow.

No one likes to think about all this, but you’ll regret it at the last minute if you don’t

Take it from my own personal experience, the last thing you want if you suddenly get sick or incapacitated, which none of us want or expect, is to think about all this.

So take care of it now, and then forget about it!

Before you go out on that final big journey, take as many steps as you can to take care of your digital assets!

Got something to add? Feel free to leave your own thoughts, tips and suggestions in the comments below!

Coming Soon: 

The travel journal continues … or ends … 

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34 Replies to “What happens to your online digital assets if you die?”

  1. Interesting post. I have thought about these issues from time to time, but never investigated it further. This information is informative and useful.

  2. Very Interesting. I don’t want to have my next of kin open my email in case I die although I doubt if my next of kin would be interested to open them. lol.. :) Either way, I should really prepare my email accounts just in case… :)

  3. Thanks for the comprehensive article Dave. I need to get my act in order and do something like this. We’ve had members of TP who have passed on and I can tell from the people who got in touch with us that it definitely would have been a lot easier for them if the deceased left some passwords behind! The main one really is email, since most other passwords can be retrieved that way. I’m guessing that’s why gmail doesn’t delete the account, but instead leaves it active for family members to access.

    1. Hey Peter, I hear you with the Gmail account. It’s done pretty well. At least from what they say. Not had any practical use of this part of their service yet, nor have I plans too.

      It’s certainly not a topic many people, nor companies like to talk about. Data security and death both seem to get people backs up! That said, with the amount of privacy issues going around at the moment I’d say it wouldn’t be a bad thing for many sites that have registered users to put a policy in place. If anything, it will speed things up should a family member come knocking looking for access to an account.

  4. More things to add in the will. Very practical, but do people really take the time to think about these? Unfortunately, most of us think it’ll happen to everybody else except us.

    1. I agree Michael, very few people want to even think about this. I should have put something in their about “do you really want Google to keep all your adsense money, or would you prefer your children to have it?” in regards to websites. I think in about 5-10 years when a high profile .com person dies it will get people moving!

  5. Sorting everything out after my Dad’s recent death was made easier because he wrote down his passwords and I knew where. Not generally recommended, but perhaps a good idea as soon as the words ‘paliative care’ come up. Miserable but sensible.

    1. Well done to you Dad for having the foresight to do this. A smart man who knew it might cause problems for his family. So much is stored on email accounts these days. It’s never an easy, nor likable subject. I think the best way to deal with it, is to think about how it will help those left behind.

  6. A bit of a depressing subject – but an important one. This is great advice, thanks for putting it all together!

  7. Interesting as ever Dave. However, this relates to the work I do and I thought I’ll add my 2 cents..

    Death is unfortunate however the Universal Truth and people have 2 approaches to managing afterlife, plan for it or react to the situation. At your age you definitely are a role model.

    (editor — content removed for self promotion of a company)

    1. Hello Bhaskar,

      Thank you for your first comment. Please note that I’ve edited out the remainder of your comment as it reads like an advertisement for a company that deals in after death services.

      I also received an email from you about such services, and replied in kind.

      You are most welcome to constructively comment here, however please don’t advertise your services within the comment section as it will be marked as spam in the future.

  8. Now this is a seriously interesting post. Yahoo won’t do anything??? Why? They promote changing passwords and then say you should leave the password in a will? Think I need to change email providers.

    1. I’m guessing they wrote a privacy policy a long time ago, and have not updated it. Possibly they are fearful of legal repercussions. Or, more over legal costs, or admin costs in implementing this. The company as a whole seems to have several issues over the past few years. With many speculating it will fold soon. Personally, I hope not. But, yes, they should update this policy.

  9. I’ve thought about this, but never done much about it. Traveling at the end of the year too. It’s really something you don’t want to think about it. But, I’m going to leave a flash drive behind with my parents with a list of my emails addies and blog password inside. I’ll then tell a friend where it is, and if something happens they can tell my parents.

    Owww. Same with my travel insurance!! That’s a great point! I keep coming back to this page LOL!

    1. Hi Karen,

      That’s a clever thought with the flash drive and letting different people know about it! Hopefully no one will have to do this. And yes, it’s good to give people multiple copies of your travel insurance!

  10. Wow, I am impressed with how comprehensive and detailed you got on this. What a great resource. Now I’m seriously concerned about your health situation though. Hope your newsletter brings good news!

    1. Thanks Kristina, I appreciate it. Most of this is due to some spare time, and my own curiosity.

      Newsletter is out in a few days, although it’s more like a mini novel at this stage! I don’t know if it’s too much, too little, or compelling reading or just babble. But, it’s detailed. Travel journal continues next week. At least that’s the plan today!

  11. Very very detailed. I bookmarked this article for a day when I am “preparing for death.”
    Being a somewhat youngster, I still think I can outwit it. :)

      1. I’m not sure if it is a choice… it is just how my brain works.
        My girlfriend could spot a cornflake on the floor a mile away.
        I could walk by it for a week.

        It is easy to see the details in your site. Thanks!

  12. Invaluable information and someting we all need to think about. I know my father worries aboutt these things as I live overseas. Many thanks.

    1. Your welcome Valerie. I find having at least the details of one email account to be key. Setting up one of those 3 month services to email you, and then it sends off a mail can help too. Either that, or the lawyer solution if it’s not too costly.

  13. Just read up on it Dave, looks like you’re right with Yahoo having issues.

    I’d better think about changing email. Not looking forward to it, I keep a lot on email. This has really given me food for though. Thanks mate.

  14. An good read Dave. I was particularly interested in the transfer of copyright of personal images, and also the later sections of the blog points.

    As for the social media accounts. I don’t really care for what happens to these, but for my blog to live on after I’ve gone is of most interest to me.

    It would be quite a complex task for me to explain to someone (aka a lawyer) who doesn’t have the technical knowledge, on how the whole thing goes together, with the various settings, accounts an passwords.

    When you site back and think about it, there is just so much to this topic, and as you say. Going forward from this point in time, the Gen Y generation and beyond are going to have to really sort this out.

    Well here’s to hoping that we all don’t have to deal with this any-time soon, but it’s a fact of life, ‘Death that is….’

    1. To the best of my knowledge the copyright of all your works goes to your next of kin. Otherwise it stays in your name for 50 years if unclaimed. After that it becomes a part of the public domain.

      Best to write it into a will in my book.

  15. Dave, I’m not sure how to contact you apart from this comments section, so apologies.

    I just read the email account of your illnes. That’s quite an ordeal. If you need a place to hold up for a while you can stay in the house I have for guests here at my home near Dumaguete. I’m talking through to the New Year if you need. You’d just have to get yourself to cebu and I’d do the rest.

    Please consider the option of getting back to UK now for treatment. I had a friend who had a similar intestine illness (similar symptoms). He decided to brave it out to the point he was too ill to fly except with medical repatriation.

    Good luck, and thanks for taking time to reply to my earlier posts.


    1. Kendo,

      Many thanks for your kind offer. I’ll certainly make a note of it. At the moment I don’t have many plans to move from this region as that’s where the doctor I am see is.

      I am taking things one step at a time and keeping an eye on everything.

      Regarding the email/newsletter, my email address is the one in the same. The one that sent out the newsletter and is my central contact point.

      All the best

  16. I chose to leave a message to my wife, with some instructions to follow… in http://www.afteridie.org you can schedule up to 3 emails to be sent when you die.
    For me is a very nice solution, I can now rest easy

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