Some interesting messages from readers after our last issue regarding access to email accounts after the death of the user.
In that article we deliberately kept our comments general - the legal situation for executors or estate administrators varies between countries and states. Even the terminology is different and, in the end, we're talking about email not the minutiae of probate law.
Time limit on email accounts
Most email storage is deleted after a period of inactivity (30, 60 or 90 days). Many readers were disturbed about the inactivity time limit on email accounts and especially the fact that the inactivity might not be the date of death but some date earlier.
"When you have a death in the family, it takes almost 10 days just to deal with the burial, getting final info, papers signed, transferred etc. and the travel that is usually part of that. You lose a week there. Plus most of us work - and most bereavement is only 3 days so you HAVE to go back to work and try to fit all the tasks as executor (most of us do NOT have estate managers).
My point - 30 days is VERY short amount of time. And I know that's up to each email company. What does that mean? It means email needs to move to the TOP of your stack of things to do, not the bottom.
I am STILL dealing with things from my dad's death … and had he had an email account, I would never have thought to deal with it right away. I would have had it way down the list. And probably would not have recovered anything in it.
And you are so right - a LOT of information the family might need is in email."
Aside from any business or financial information on the email accounts - there may well be important personal messages that could be a comfort to family and friends.
" In 2005 my father died and I dealt with his estate. He used email, but not for anything of major import, so I did not hit any practical problems. He used a POP server so I could get access to anything he had downloaded before he went into hospital, but I never got access to anything on his ISP, and disregarded them.
In law, the ISP should not grant any access to confidential data until probate is granted, and as they realise your points about web statements, they will probably clamp down on knowingly granting access without seeing probate. The one exception is for financial institutions to provide valuations of assets so that the information that the Probate office requires can be provided by the executor. In my case, it was over 5 weeks after he entered hospital before I could even start to write those letters, because of time spent in hospital, sorting funeral and other things that had to be done. I would imagine that many executors experience longer delays.
Because of the need to provide a full estimate of the value of the estate, it will invariably take months, not weeks, to obtain probate. Hence a 30 day purge period is a real concern."
Even a 60 or 90 day period isn't enough in many cases. Banks and other asset holders have policies where the asset is 'frozen' until the legal formalities are concluded. Webmail services don't have such policies, if you can't satisfy their requirements within the period of inactivity then the information is lost.
Article posted: Monday, 26 February 2007
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