In today's paper, I have a story exploring what happens to digital assets such as accounts with Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, eBay, PayPal and other services when someone passes away.
Since most sites won't just turn over the username and password of a family member that has died, accessing their accounts can be difficult.
As the story mentions, the Twitter, Facebook and MySpace profiles of Erika Roman, the Orlando DJ who was killed in a car accident in May, are still online.
You can find a lot of good information on the subject, including list of companies that will help you store your digital account information at The Digital Beyond.
Here are the policies of some popular online sites in services in dealing with the accounts of deceased users:FacebookI’d like to report a deceased user or an account that needs to be memorialized.Please report this information here so that we can memorialize this person’s account. Memorializing the account removes certain more sensitive information like status updates and restricts profile access to confirmed friends only. Please note that in order to protect the privacy of the deceased user, we cannot provide login information for the account to anyone. We do honor requests from close family members to close the account completely.
MySpaceHow can you delete or access a deceased user's profile?We're very sorry to hear about your loss. If you're the next of kin (mother, father, spouse, domestic partner, son or daughter) of the deceased, we can delete the MySpace profile for you.For the sake of our users' safety and security, however, we'll need you to Email us proof of death, such as an obituary or death certificate at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please write us from your personal Email address and tell us how you're related to the deceased and include the deceased user's MySpace friend ID along with your specific request to delete the profile or remove content.Unfortunately, we can't let you access, edit or delete any of the content or settings on the user's profile yourself, but we'll be sure to review and remove any content you find objectionable.If you have access to the Email account tied to this MySpace profile, you can also retrieve the password through the Forgot Password link located on the MySpace homepage.If you wish to create a memorial for your loved one, you can set up a group page to honor them and link it to their profile.
A MySpace spokeswoman said that MySpace will give access to the executor of estate and in the case of a minor will give access to a legal guardian who has provided evidence of guardian relationship and the death.
Since public profiles remain public when someone dies, a site called MyDeathSpace aggregates the profiles of deceased MySpace users.
Statement from Yahoo Spokesman Jason Khoury:"The commitment Yahoo! makes to every person who signs-up for a Yahoo! Mail account is to treat their email as a private communication and to treat the content of their messages as confidential. In the event of a user’s passing, representatives of deceased users can contact Yahoo!’s Customer Care department to shut down the deceased user’s account and terminate billing on premium accounts.In regards to accessing deceased users’ accounts, federal law restricts the ability of Internet services to disclose electronic communications of their subscribers. Internet users who want to be sure their email and other online accounts are accessible to their legal heirs may want to work with their attorneys to plan an offline process for such access as part of their estate planning."
In 2005, a Michigan judge ordered Yahoo to release the contents of an e-mail account to the family of a marine who was killed in Iraq.
GmailIf an individual has passed away and you need access to the content of his or her mail, please fax or mail us the following information:1. Your full name and contact information, including a verifiable email address.2. The Gmail address of the individual who passed away.3a. The full header from an email message that you have received at your verifiable email address, from the Gmail address in question. (To obtain the header from a message in Gmail, open the message, click the down arrow next to Reply, at the top-right of the message pane, and select 'Show original.' The full headers will appear in a new window. To obtain headers from other webmail or email providers, please refer to http://mail.google.com/support/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=22454#)3b. The entire contents of the message.4. Proof of death.5. One of the following: a) if the decedent was 18 or older, please provide a proof of authority under local law that you are the lawful representative of the deceased or his or her estate or b) if the decedent was under the age of 18 and you are the parent of the individual, please provide a copy of the decedent’s birth certificate.Postal Mail:Google Inc.Attention: Gmail User Support1600 Amphitheatre ParkwayMountain View, CA 94043Fax: 650-644-0358After we've received the above information, we'll need 30 days to process and validate the documents that you've provided. If you need access to the address sooner, in accordance with state and federal law, it is Google's policy to only provide information pursuant to a valid third party court order or other appropriate legal process. Please note that our ability to ability to comply with these requests varies according to applicable law.
Microsoft Windows Live/HotmailIt is MSN/Windows Live Policy that we do not reset the password of accounts of deceased or incapacitated individuals. Instead, after the required paperwork has been submitted and validated, we will provide the contents of the account on a CD.Microsoft is very concerned about our users' online security. Because of the nature of your request, we must ask for some personal information to verify that you are the executor of the account holder’s estate or the power of attorney before we release the account details to you.
(Full instructions at the link above)