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Email after death

What happens if you need to access webmail for someone who has died? And what should you do to prepare?

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An interesting article in the Sydney Morning Herald about access to email accounts after the account holder dies.

This caught Peter’s eye because in a previous decade (pre-email) he worked in managing the assets and wills for deceased estates. He’s seen plenty of cases where access to information or accounts has been difficult. The job requires a bit of detective work through paperwork, looking for clues to accounts, assets or bills. We know this is a topic that many people don’t like to think about, but it’s important nonetheless.

Kim Powell asked Yahoo, Hotmail and Google about their policies. While the policies don’t require a court appointed executor or administrator (a death certificate is the major requirement) there are other things that might not be available. For example, there might not be a power of attorney available (as required by Google) or the estate manager probably doesn’t have an email message sent from the account.

Email is being used by more and more people for more than casual communication. Online address books can be important for contacting friends and relatives.

Banks and other companies are encouraging people to sign up for statements via email or a web site. There might not be any real paper details left behind to help manage an estate.

Clock is ticking – but when did it start?

While the major webmail companies have some policy for access to the accounts of deceased persons email, most webmail systems will automatically delete all content if it’s not accessed within say 30 or 60 days.

That means there’s a deadline for getting the paperwork to the webmail provider before the account is purged. When that deadline calculation starts is unknown. The last date the account was accessed might not (and is probably not) the date of death – the person might have been in hospital or very ill for days or weeks.

And that’s assuming those left behind know that the webmail account even exists. Many people have a collection of email addresses and accounts – not just one.

Article posted: Wednesday, 21 February 2007

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