How to gain access to your loved one’s online accounts after they die

Emma McGowan 1 Nov 2022

Plus, steps you can take to create a pre-death plan for how to handle online accounts.

Nearly 60% of American adults have a social media account and, chances are, if you're reading this, you're one of them. What happens to those accounts when the person dies? And what about online banking and mortgages and bills and every other online account that most of us have? This is an important question that many people don't think about until it's too late. 

According to a recent study, 71% of people said they would want their loved ones to be able to access their accounts after they die, but only 29% had taken steps to make that happen. This leaves a lot of people in the dark about what to do when someone close to them dies and they need to gain access to their accounts. 

There are a few different ways to go about this, depending on the account in question, but there are specific things you’ll need to do in order to access most. Here are the initial steps you  need to take before being able to access the online accounts of someone who has recently died. 

1. Get a copy of the death certificate 

A death certificate is the first step toward establishing that the person has passed and that you’re allowed to access their accounts. You can get one from your state’s office or your county clerk, depending on where your area holds those records. You can also request multiple copies, which are good to have on hand in case multiple organizations want official copies and don’t accept photocopies. 

2. Get a letter of testamentary

Both tech companies and financial institutions will request that you not only prove that the person is dead but also that you have a legal right to access their accounts. That can be done with a letter of testamentary, which gives you a legal right to matters concerning their estate. Only the executor of the estate can get the letter, however, so if it’s not you then you’ll need to get the executor on board.

In order to obtain a letter of testamentary, you’ll need to submit the deceased person’s will and death certificate to the probate court. 

3. Reach out to the company

Social media and other tech companies each have their own process for requesting access to an account after someone dies. Here are some of the top ones: Facebook, Instagram, Google, Twitter, PayPal.

Banks and other traditional financial institutions don’t have automated processes the way tech companies do, however, so you’ll need to call each institution and find out what you need to do to access any accounts.

Creating a pre-death plan for online accounts

If you want to avoid the hassle of having to contact each individual service after someone dies, you can create a pre-death plan for how to handle their online accounts.

Here are some steps you can take to create a pre-death plan for how to handle your online accounts or the online accounts of a loved one:

  1. Talk to your loved one about their online accounts and what they would want to happen to those accounts after they die.

  2. Make a list of all of the online accounts that your loved one has, including the username and password for each account. Do not include that information in a will, as wills become public when someone dies.

  3. Store the list in a safe place where it can be easily accessed by those who need it. If those people aren’t you, inform the necessary people of where that list is stored. It can even be with the estate lawyer or executor.

  4. Make sure to update the list regularly as new accounts are created and old ones are deleted.

Dealing with the death of a loved one is hard enough without having to worry about their online accounts. Hopefully, this guide has given you some clarity on what to do in order to gain access to those accounts. If you want to avoid having to deal with this altogether, make sure to create a pre-death plan for your accounts.

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