gmailDead 300x168 What happens to my Gmail account when I die?

I was reading a great article on Lifehacker and had to share:

You use a handful of web services every day, but perhaps none holds more of your personal information than your Gmail account. So what happens to your Gmail account should you end up in that big archive folder in the sky? The folks from cloud backup service Backupify set out to find out. Here’s what they learned.

We talk a lot about data ownership in the context of retaining control of the information you create via online services. But let’s say I use a service that’s actually pretty good about keeping me in control of my explicitly stored data—Gmail, for example—does that control survive my own death?

Put more simply, can my wife inherit my Gmail account when I die?

This is more than an academic exercise: I have a number of online accounts and services that send primary notifications to my Gmail account. It’s entirely possible my wife may not be able to access my Health Savings Account or Roth IRA in a timely fashion without access to my Gmail account.

The easy answer is to leave credentials to my account in a place my wife knows to find them in the event of my untimely demise. The only problem with that plan is impersonating a Gmail user is a violation of the Gmail terms of service. Google is unlikely to know the impersonation is happening, and unlikely to care in the majority of cases, but on the off chance they find out my wife is logging into my account after my death, they can suspend or terminate the account at their discretion. This more or less obviates the whole reason for giving my wife access in the first place.

 

Gmail is a service, not a product, and my use of that service is non-transferrable. If I die without giving my wife my Gmail password, the account will be automatically deleted nine months after my date of last login. If I do give her the password, I run the risk of Google deleting the account the second they realize my wife is impersonating me. Google is far from alone in this, and actually has some of the more well considered data privacy and ownership policies out there.

So, is there a way to bequeath my Gmail account to my wife? After a fashion, yes.

My wife can apply for access to the contents of my Gmail account after my death, but there are some moderately strenuous legal hurdles for her to jump, not least of which is A) having received a message from my Gmail account before, B) a copy of my death certificate and C) a court order showing she’s entitled to the account. And even if she gives all of that, it’s possible Google could deny her request at its discretion.

Continue reading the rest of the post on Life Hacker here.