Email accounts and Social Networking

Most people now have email accounts and online social network accounts such as Hotmail, Google Mail, LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.  But what happens to these accounts after your death?  Can your relatives close them down?  Can they access the contents?  Do you want them to?

There are stories of families struggling to close down email accounts; spammers accessing accounts and sending emails; social networking accounts staying open but dormant and unnervingly visible.

These accounts are all password protected and there is no local branch for your family to pop into with a copy of the death certificate and no-one they can speak to face-to-face.  You are strongly, and wisely, advised not to write down these passwords.  But then how can family access them to close them down or gain access to the contents?

Google has launched a tool to allow users to decide what happens to the data stored by Google Mail and the social network Google Plus and some other accounts, after the user dies.  This tool lets you decide whether your account should be closed down after a set period of time of inactivity, or whether some or all of the data should be passed to a particular person.

Facebook allows accounts to be ‘memorialised’ so that confirmed Facebook friends can view the profile information.
Hotmail can provide a data DVD containing all emails and attachments, address book and Messenger contact list.  They will not however allow you to reset the password or take over the account.

The policy differs from one company to the next.  In each case you need to provide the company with the death certificate and proof of your entitlement to deal with the deceased’s affairs e.g. the Grant of Probate.

Bank accounts and investments

Perhaps more importantly, we are increasingly coming across assets for which there is no physical bank or building society – where everything is “virtual”, “online” or “digital”.

These accounts, investments and share portfolios are generally dealt with in the same way as any other accounts after your death.  However, if you have no physical record of the account in your papers, then your family may never know about it or investigate it.  This can happen if you keep all your statements online and perhaps never print anything off.  You are advised to keep a schedule of all assets, and update it regularly.