A reader recently asked about how family members should go about gaining control of a loved one’s various online services in the event of his or her death.
Here are the steps involved when it comes to Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo, plus how to cancel accounts with all four major U.S. wireless carriers without penalty.
Facebook’s policy is to convert accounts of the deceased into “memorialized” accounts, but immediate family members with the correct documentation are able to request that an account be removed entirely.
From Facebook’s help page:
How do I report a deceased person or an account that needs to be memorialized?
Memorializing the account:
It is our policy to memorialize the account of a deceased person.
In order to protect the privacy of the deceased person, we cannot provide login information for the account. However, once it has been memorialized, we take measures to secure the account.
If you need to report a timeline to be memorialized, please contact us.
Removing the account:
Verified immediate family members may request the removal of a loved one’s account from the site.
What happens when a deceased person’s account is memorialized?
When a person passes away, we memorialize their account to protect their privacy. Here are some of the key features of memorialized accounts:
- No one can log into a memorialized account and no new friends can be accepted
- Depending on the privacy settings of the deceased person’s account, friends can share memories on the memorialized timeline
- Anyone can send private messages to the deceased person
- Content the deceased person shared (ex: photos, posts) remains on Facebook and is visible to the audience it was shared with
- Memorialized timelines don’t appear in People You May Know and other suggestions
Creating a timeline in remembrance of an already deceased person is not allowed. We encourage you to create a Page to do this.
Learn how to request the memorialization of a deceased person’s account.
What should I do if a deceased person’s account is showing in People You May Know?
If a friend or contact has passed away, you or their family can memorialize their Facebook account. Learn more about account memorialization or contact us to request memorialization of this person’s account.
My personal account is in a special memorialized state.
We provide people with the ability to report a friend’s account after they’ve passed away. If you can’t access your account because it’s in a special memorialized state, please contact us.
Note: We will only be able to grant you access to this account if we are able to verify you are the user whose name is listed on the account.
Link: Report a Deceased Person
From Google’s help page:
Accessing a deceased person’s account
If an individual has passed away and you need access to the contents of his or her Google account, in rare cases we may be able to provide the account content to an authorized representative of the deceased user. We extend our condolences and appreciate your patience and understanding throughout this process.
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 user’s account will be made only after a careful review, and the application to obtain account content is a lengthy process. Before you begin, please understand that Google may be unable to provide the account content, and sending a request or filing the required documentation does not guarantee that we will be able to assist you. If you are the authorized representative of a deceased user and wish to proceed with an application to obtain the contents of a deceased user’s Google account, please carefully review the following information regarding our two stage process:
We require the following information:
- Your full name
- Your physical mailing address
- Your email address
- A photocopy of your government-issued ID or driver’s license
- The Gmail address or Google username (which is typically an email address) of the deceased user
- The death certificate of the deceased user. If the document is not in English, please provide a certified English translation prepared by a competent translator and notarized
- The following information from an email correspondence that you have received at your email address, from the email address associated with the Google account 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:’ through the ‘References:’ line
- The entire content of the message
Mail or fax this information to:
Gmail User Support – Decedents’ Accounts
c/o Google Custodian of Records
1600 Amphitheatre Parkway
Mountain View, CA 94043
Upon receipt of this information, Google will review your request and notify you by email as to whether or not we will be able to move beyond Part 1 to the next steps of the process. 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 process including an order from a U.S. court and/or submitting additional materials. Please note that submitting these materials will not guarantee that we will be able to provide account content so we recommend not embarking on Part 2 until you hear back from us regarding Part 1. Also, some information for some products may not be available or provided even if steps 1 and 2 are completed successfully. Because of our concerns for user privacy, if we determine that we cannot provide the account content, we will not be able to share further details about the account or discuss our decision. Please note that Google may change what is required from time to time and in particular cases.
Link: Accessing a deceased person’s account
From Microsoft’s forum:
Microsoft Next of Kin Process: What to do in the event of the death or incapacitation of a loved one with a Hotmail 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 Windows Live Hotmail or MSN Hotmail account.
What can Microsoft provide me with in relation to my family member’s Hotmail account?
The Microsoft Next of Kin process allows for the release of Hotmail 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 Hotmail 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 Windows Live Hotmail or MSN Hotmail accounts (email accounts ending in @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 Windows Live Custodian of Records by 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 surving 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 Hotmail 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.
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 documentation 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 3 business days. We are not open on weekends or major American holidays. Once we have received all of your documentation, the verification process should take no more than one business day, 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. Shipments are usually received within 5 to 7 days.
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 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 9 months of inactivity, and the account itself is deleted after an additional 3 months; for a total of one year. 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.
Link: My family member died recently/is in coma, what do I need to do to access their Hotmail account?
From Yahoo’s help page:
Options available when a Yahoo! Account owner passes away
Options and information concerning:
- Yahoo! policy regarding access to a deceased users’ account
- Requirements to close an account belonging to a deceased user
We understand that the loss of a relative can be a difficult time.
At the time of registration, all account holders agree to the Yahoo! Terms of Service (TOS). 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. Ultimately, it is our policy to honor the initial agreement made with our customers, even in the event of their passing.
Please know that 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.
To process this request, we require certain pieces of information, including:
- 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; and
- A copy of the death certificate of the Yahoo! account holder
This information may be sent to the Legal Department at
(408) 349-7941 (fax)
701 First Avenue
Sunnyvale, CA, 94089-0703
Again, we extend our condolences to you and your family.
Link: Options available when a Yahoo! Account owner passes away
From AT&T’s help page:
Change your wireless account due to life events
We offer our sincerest condolences during this difficult time. To cancel or change an account for a deceased family member, call Customer Service at 800.331.0500 or 611 from your AT&T wireless phone:
- You’ll need to provide the account holder’s Social Security number and/or the password on the account.
- Early termination and/or Transfer of Billing Responsibility fees won’t be charged.
- The balance on the account is the responsibility of the estate.
- The account cannot remain active under the name and Social Security number of the deceased person (with the exception of customers residing in Oklahoma). A Transfer of Billing Responsibility is required to retain the mobile number with AT&T service.
Link: Change your wireless account due to life events
From Sprint’s help page:
To cancel or close an account for a deceased family member, send an email message to DeceasedNotification@sprint.com. For the quickest resolution, include the following:
• Account holder’s name (the person who established the account)
• Mobile phone number of the deceased individual
• Date of death
• Social Security number of the deceased individual
• Your phone number (in case Sprint needs to contact you)
Link: Cancel or close an account for a deceased family member
From T-Mobile’s help page:
The death of a loved one is hard enough. T-Mobile doesn’t want to make it any more difficult. If you need to cancel a line of service on behalf of a deceased person, T-Mobile will waive the ETF. Simply contact Customer Care. You will be asked to provide the following:
- Mobile number
- Account number
- Billing responsible party name
- Death certificate, or attorney/legal estate documents if death certificate is not yet available
Customer Relations will verify the information and adjust the ETF if appropriate within seven (7) business days (excludes holidays). You will be contacted by letter with the result of the request.
Important: Supporting documentation must be received within 30 days of the cancellation in order to be considered for ETF adjustment. Documentation received after this date will not be processed.
Link: Early Termination Fee: Billing
Verizon’s policy wasn’t clearly listed anywhere online, but a post by a “community leader” in the Verizon forums suggests contacting the company “with proof” to have the issue taken care of. I contacted a nearby Verizon store and was told that one of the best acceptable forms of proof would be a death certificate and that the cancellation can be taken care of either in-store or by calling Verizon.
From Verizon’s forum:
If the account is in the name of the deceased, contact Verizon with proof and all lines on the account can be cancelled without an ETF.
If the deceased is a secondary line, only that line can be cancelled without an ETF.
Link: What happens to a contract upon death
If you’re looking for information about a service that isn’t listed here, poke around the service’s site for a contact phone number or e-mail address. One of the commonly-needed items seems to be a death certificate, so make sure to have copies on hand to be faxed or digital copies to be e-mailed.
Have a tech question you’d like answered? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll do our best to answer it.