E-mail estate planning


Ron Coleman calls attention to an aspect of setting one's affairs in order you may not have considered -- what happens to your e-mail account when you die? The parents of a Marine who was killed in Iraq are seeking access to his Yahoo! Mail account. Yahoo! is sticking with its terms of service, under which an e-mail account is closed down and wiped after 120 days of inactivity. Yahoo! terms of service specify that there is no right of survivorship in e-mail. Yahoo! may terminate an account and delete its contents upon notification of the account owner's death.

I feel for the parents, and I can understand why they want access to their son's e-mail -- it's something more of him that they can hold onto. I'm sure they'd also like to let all of his e-mail pals know what happened to him. Ron Coleman suggests that they might be able to seek a court order if there were a "specific compelling reason" for them to need access, and even then someone with no connection to the family should be given the job of sifting through and finding the relevant information.

Were I putting myself in harm's way and wanted someone to have access to my e-mail in the event of my death, I'd put the password in a sealed envelope and file it with my will. And I probably should provide a relative or trusted friend with a regularly updated list of people, to be notified upon my demise, along with their addresses, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses.

Perhaps the parents could ask the court to access the account and send a message to every address found in the account: John was killed in Iraq. You can contact his parents at this address. They would appreciate any memories of John that you could share with them. If you have e-mails from him about his time in Iraq and feel comfortable sharing them with his parents, they would be very appreciative.

I think that would meet the parents' concerns without violating the Marine's privacy.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on March 4, 2005 11:38 AM.

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