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Getting Access To Email Of The Deceased

from the not-fun-at-all... dept

Earlier this year, we wrote about the growing issue of what happens to your online persona after you pass away. As we noted at that time, there really isn’t a standard procedure for how to clean up a loved one’s online accounts — especially since most are password protected. This is becoming an issue with one family whose son was killed in Iraq earlier this year. They’re now trying to get access to his Yahoo Mail account, but Yahoo refuses, noting that the terms of service say that your account can be… um… terminated upon death. The family is trying to get Yahoo to change their mind before the 90 day period which Yahoo uses to judge whether or not an account is active. After that, the entire account will be deleted. So far, it appears that Yahoo’s basic response to the family is: “That really sucks, but too bad.”

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Comments on “Getting Access To Email Of The Deceased”

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david (user link) says:


I think Yahoo is on firm legal ground. Unless the deceased left something in writing — in a will, I suppose — leaving the e-mail login/password to a loved one, then it seems that e-mail should remain private. Compare it to, say, a post-office box or safe-deposit box — just because the owner (renter) passes away, doesn’t mean that the parents get ownership, does it? It has to be stipulated in a will, AFAIK.

Michael Vilain says:

Re: Yahoo! != safe deposit box

Actually, it’s totally legal for a family member to present a death certificate and gain access to a safe deposit box if they have a key. If you’re the executor of the estate, you need a signed, notarized document and death certificate to access a safe deposite box if you’re not a blood relative.

If I was in this situation, I’d be in court suing Yahoo’s collective ass. The Terms of Service contract _ends_ with the deceased’s death. I don’t see how this is different from a safe deposit box, which is property of the deceased’s estate and passes to the family or executor.

Michael Vilain says:

Re: Re: Re: Yahoo! == safe deposit box but is email == pro

If I didn’t have a key, the signed document stating I’m the executor and death certificate would be enough to force the bank to break into the box.

I don’t see how Yahoo! has a legal leg to stand on with this issue as all contracts cease with the passing of the owner of the account. If they destroy property that’s part of the estate of a deceased, they’re in big trouble. Now, is email property thats inheritable?

mbanbury (user link) says:

Yahoo should be fully supported

My family, nor any of my friends or relatives have access to my personal email account. That is because it is personal. Its my private correspondance with friends, family, associates and love interests. I am currently serving in Iraq, and if I were to fall, the last thing I would want is my family reading emails between me and my girlfriend. It is likely that any email he intended his family to read, has already been sent to them.

GG says:

my sister recently passed away and her death is being investigated as a potential homicide due to the violent nature of her relationship with her BF, who was present when she died.

my family wants access to her Yahoo account so we can pass along emails to/from her BF that may assist the investigation. Yahoo really needs to help us out on this, and i have been searching for answers online as to how to contact Yahoo, info on getting access to a deceased person’s email, etc. for days. i know this article is old and my sister’s case isn’t like this dead marine’s, but i really hope Yahoo can help my family by giving us access to her account so we can give the investigators any information that may be in her account that may shed light on the events leading to her death.

logarithm (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Legally – can’t do in most states. You need to let law enforcement have all the info. They will be able to get access to the account(s) thru search warrants signed by a judge. You don’t want to even think about touching those emails – if there’s anything there, the evidence will be compromised if you open them with your IP address.

ryan says:

im so surprised that this is not more and more of an issue as time passes since email is such a huge part of our loved ones lives. and so many more ways of holding precious last moments that the family would want to know and share. it could even sum up confusion and help them understand more n what was going on with their lives at, especially an untimely death.

i lost me wife of 35 a week and a half a go. and the last time we spoke the night before she died(i was out of town)she was on yahoo i.m and i was texting through my yahoo account. we i.m.ed each other most of the week when i was away. she always saved her messages in her i.m. i dont remember every word but i do know one of the last things she typed was that she missed me and my son who was with me… all i want is her email password to read those last conversations i had with my wife, mother of my son and the first and only love of my life of 17yrs.

i havent tried to call and tell them my story i can barely type this but if they cant help me i will delete my account of 10 years for good.

the yahoo way:

“No Right of Survivorship and Non-Transferability. You agree that your Yahoo! account is non-transferable and any rights to your Yahoo! ID or contents within your account terminate upon your death. Upon receipt of a copy of a death certificate, your account may be terminated and all contents therein permanently deleted.”

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