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What happens to your online accounts when you die

First published on 30th September 2020

In today’s world, 91% of adults in the UK use the internet.

From banking and shopping to files and photos, it’s easy to forget how much of our personal information is stored online.

To protect your digital legacy, you’ll need to leave instructions for how your online profiles, accounts and files should be taken care of when you die.

This handy guide will take you through the choices available with some of the most popular websites, social media accounts and paid-for subscription services.

To help, we’ve split everything into four categories:

This isn’t an exhaustive list and policies change, so it’s always best to do your own research too.

How to make your digital wishes known

You can use our free digital wishes pack as an easy way to note down your account details, and to say what you’d like to happen to each one.

There’s no need to include your passwords. Whoever deals with your accounts when you’re gone won’t need them.

However you choose to record your account details, remember to let your loved ones know where they’re stored.

Your digital executor

A good way to make sure your online accounts will be dealt with correctly is to name a digital executor in your Will. Their job is to manage everything according to your instructions – giving you more control over your digital legacy.

Social media

Don’t leave the precious memories you’ve shared on social media floating in cyberspace.

Sites like Facebook only know a person has died if someone tells them.

If nothing is done with your profile after you die, it will still be active and vulnerable to abuse.

Your loved ones might also continue to get notifications on significant dates like your birthday, which could be upsetting for them.

Most social media platforms have a policy explaining what to do when someone dies.

We’ve outlined some of these policies below, along with guidelines on what you can do now to make things easier for your loved ones when you’re gone.

Facebook

You can decide now what happens to your Facebook profile when you die:

  • Close your Facebook account – your profile will be permanently removed
  • Memorialise your Facebook account – your profile will be visible to your friends and family, but it can’t be accessed
  • Nominate a legacy contact – who’ll be able to manage your account and download photos, videos and posts etc. to pass on to your loved ones

If you haven’t left any instructions, Facebook will memorialise your account when they are told about your death, unless they are asked to delete it.

Read Facebook's full policy here.

Twitter

You can authorise someone (for example, your digital executor) to deactivate your Twitter account by filling in this privacy form.

Twitter will send them an email explaining what details they’ll need to provide to deactivate the account, including their ID and your death certificate.

Read Twitter’s full policy here.

LinkedIn

A colleague, classmate, loved one or person you’ve nominated can ask LinkedIn to remove your profile and close your account.

They’ll need to submit this form and give proof that you’ve passed away e.g. an obituary.

Read LinkedIn’s full policy here.

Pinterest

You can authorise someone to ask Pinterest to deactivate your account.

They’ll need to email care@pinterest.com with your full name, email address and a link to your Pinterest account, as well as proof of your death and their ID.

Instagram

For your Instagram account, you can authorise someone to ask for your account to be memorialised.

If you’d like your account removed, they’ll have to fill in this form.

Read Instagram’s full policy here.

WhatsApp

WhatsApp can’t delete an account on your behalf, so someone will need access to your mobile phone to delete the account for you.

Make sure it’s somebody you trust and who knows how to unlock your phone.

Your account can be deleted in the app under ‘Settings’ by entering your phone number in the international format.

Read WhatsApp’s full policy here.

Google accounts (e.g. Google Drive, YouTube, Google One)

Google’s Inactive Account Manager lets you decide what happens to your accounts when you die.

This service includes Gmail, YouTube and any other Google accounts. You can:

  • Set a timeout period – after which your account will be inactive
  • Share your data with a nominated contact – such as photos, videos, emails etc.
  • Delete your account – so it will be permanently removed

If you don’t leave instructions via the Inactive Account Manager, a loved one can fill in this form to close your account.

Read Google’s full policy here.

Email

For most email accounts, like Yahoo, you can authorise someone to contact the provider and ask for your account to be closed.

Usually, they’ll need to give ID and a copy of the death certificate.

Once the email provider gets this information, they’ll delete your account. No data will be transferred to anyone else.

Some providers do offer other options. For example:

Gmail

As we mentioned above, Google’s Inactive Account Manager gives you a few options for your Gmail.

You can choose for your account to be deleted as soon as Google are told about your death. Or you can ask for your account to be deleted after a certain period.

You can also nominate someone to be given access to your emails, plus any documents or photos that are attached.

Read Google’s full policy here.

Microsoft (e.g. Hotmail.com, Outlook.com, Live.com, Windowslive.com, MSN.com)

You’ll need to authorised someone to email msrecord@microsoft.com and go through Microsoft's Next of Kin process.

Microsoft won’t give anyone access to your account. But once they’ve got the information they need, they’ll release your account data to your next of kin on a DVD.

This includes your emails, attachments and your address book.

Read Microsoft’s full policy here.

TalkTalk and AOL (previously Tiscali)

Once again, you’ll need to authorise someone to deal with your TalkTalk or AOL account.

When the time comes, your nominee will have to contact their Bereavement Team.

They’ll have to give your account details to close or transfer ownership of your account.

Money

When you die, the law dictates that all your financial affairs must be dealt with by the executor of your Will.

If you don’t make a Will, the responsibility will fall to your next of kin.

It’s important to list all your money-related online accounts in your digital wishes (preferably in your Will).

Especially as you might have small debts or credits that your executor won’t know about e.g. subscriptions or money owed for goods you’ve sold.

Remember, there’s no need to include your passwords or PINs in the list of your online accounts.

Here are some of the most common types of money-related online accounts:

  • Current account
  • Savings account
  • Credit cards
  • Loans
  • PayPal
  • Online store credit e.g. Next Directory
  • Auction sites e.g. eBay
  • Betting or gaming e.g. National Lottery
  • Store cards/loyalty cards e.g. Tesco Clubcard, Nectar
  • Investments/share dealing

Other online accounts

There are hundreds of online companies offering free and paid services. Almost all of them ask you to sign up and agree to their terms of service.

Before you know it, you can have dozens of online accounts for all kinds of things.

When it comes to working out what will happen to these accounts when you die, some providers are clear, and some are not.

Below is a list of some of the most popular online services, and what will happen to these accounts when you die:

Music, books and film downloads

In the past, it was simple. Precious record collections, books and videos were passed on when you died.

But passing on digital assets is not so simple.

When you buy files through services such as iTunes, Spotify and Amazon, you’re downloading music, e-books, films or TV shows aren’t owned by you – so they’re not yours to pass on.

Once they are told about a death, most service providers will delete the account and all of its content.

TV and broadband

You’ll need to authorise someone to contact your TV and broadband provider. They’ll be asked:

  • Your name
  • Your account number
  • Their relationship to you
  • If they want to close your account
  • The name and address of the executor of your estate

Popular UK providers:

eBay

You can authorise someone to contact eBay to close your account.

They’ll need to send a copy of the death certificate, along with your username, email address, full name, address and phone number, as well as their own ID.

Once eBay receives this information, they’ll close your account and write off any outstanding fees.

Other popular online accounts

There are too many online shops, services and tools to count, but here are some popular ones that you may need to add to your list:

  • Photo sharing e.g. Flickr
  • Music e.g. iTunes, Spotify
  • File storage e.g. Dropbox, iCloud
  • Entertainment e.g. Netflix, Amazon Prime etc.
  • Personal blog or website
  • Online dating