Managing the Web

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.

  • Most websites can be canceled from any computer if you know their username and password.
  • If you don’t, try logging into their computer and finding the browser that may have their username and password saved on them. In many cases when you log into their accounts from their computer the username and password will auto-populate and allow you to access the account and modify or delete it. You will need to have their computer’s and/or smartphone’s PIN number if the device has one.
  • If they have not saved this information and you share access to the account or have their devices and PIN numbers, try the ‘forgot username’ or ‘forgot password’ feature since you may be able to answer the personal questions. You may encounter the situation where an authorization code will be texted or emailed and will need access to their email or smartphone to receive them.

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.

  • It usually involves contacting the provider and presenting them with proof of their death and of your identity. 
  • Most providers will have a phone number to call somewhere on the site.

Resources

  • Accountkiller – A searchable directory of links and directions to delete a wide range of web service accounts. Also offers assistance if you are having trouble closing the account.
  • How To Close Online Accounts And Services When Someone Dies. everplans website. Provides step-by-step instructions on how to close more than 230 digital services. 
  • Just Delete Me – A searchable directory of links and directions to delete a wide range of web service accounts.
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