Most people have an online presence “or digital footprint” whether it’s email, Facebook, or other platforms. People buy, stream, store, and download content and data from any number of sites, most of whom have credit card, billing, and other personal information.
When these accounts remain active and go unused after a person dies, the risk of identity theft, credit card fraud, continued automatic payments to subscriptions, and other related issues increases.
Some sites such as Facebook and Gmail may allow a user to request options prior to death from the Settings or Inactive Account Manager menu. This could be deletion after death or naming of a legacy contact.
Apple’s latest iPhone software update has a Legacy Contact program that you can set up that allows you to designate someone to access your Apple account — your photos, notes, mail, etc.— after your death. Your chosen legacy contact will get an access key that is automatically stored in an encrypted location on your phone after your death certificate is uploaded to an Apple website and reviewed by Apple staff.
When a user does not do this, it is up to their heirs to contact the individual servers to close or alter these accounts. It is important to deal with all of the web services your loved one used as soon as possible.
If you know your loved one’s username and password, it would seem a simple matter to go to the site and close the account. However, the Terms of Service (TOS) agreement for most accounts stipulates that the account holder is the only approved user and federal privacy laws usually make it illegal for you to do so. While this is true while your loved one was alive, the legality of you doing this after their death is murky.
There is a typical approach to canceling accounts, but every email provider and website have their own process, the details of which are usually found in the TOS agreement.
If you do not have their devices or this information, you may need to do an online search to figure out the steps you need to take.