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Where Do Our Accounts Go When We Die?

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As the old saying goes, you can’t take it with you when you die. That helpful idiom can comfort those of us who have acquired less than our neighbors in this lifetime or inspire a “use it or lose it” value system with respect to what we do have.

And while certain intangibles may best serve us when taken to the grave, passwords to our dozens of online accounts -- our Gmails (GOOG), our Facebooks, our iClouds (AAPL), our Amazons (AMZN), our American Expresseses (AXP) -- must remain in this mortal “series of tubes” for that figurative and literal closure.

The following question was posed to business columnist David Epstein in today’s San Francisco Chronicle.

"What happens to personal e-mail and other online accounts upon the owner's demise? Provided you can plan ahead, is there a way to make sure they all die with you? And what happens to the accounts of people who die unexpectedly?"

Epstein warns that access to a deceased loved one’s online accounts without the user IDs and passwords can be problematic, even for the next of kin. While Yahoo (YHOO) doesn’t give away any account information whatsoever, Gmail and Hotmail (MSFT) require legal documentation to prove the familial relationship or executor of the estate before providing email messages and contacts.  

Social networks have their own policies. Twitter users who have entered that “Microblogosphere in the Sky” may leave behind copies of all public tweets to their next of kin and Twitter will allow closure of the account. Upon request from family, Facebook will keep the account open, albeit in a “memorialized” status, so that no one can log into the account and only confirmed friends can see the profile and post messages of remembrance.

“Think of it as digital version of a Forest Lawn mausoleum,” says Epstein.

But what about protecting your digital assets and accounts from fraud in the event of your death?

We’ve seen post-mortem services like PassMyWill monitor its clients’ levels of account activity and, if they’ve flatlined, will go through a series of measures to ascertain if that client is still alive. Once the company is confident the client is no more, it unlocks their passwords and closes their accounts.

Similarly, is in business to “pass on the keys to your digital legacy” by creating a secure list of all online assets, automatically deleting those accounts upon death, and nominating heirs (i.e., a “Digital Executor”) to determine where to transfer funds.

That, or, we can just take the time to make a list of all our accounts and passwords and leave them to someone we trust.
POSITION:  No positions in stocks mentioned.