When an individual signs up for a new online account, the process typically requires an agreement to the provider’s terms of service.  While service providers often have policies controlling what will happen on the death of an account holder, individuals rarely read the terms of service.  Nevertheless, the user is technically informed of these policies before gaining access to any service and has likely clicked on a box next to an “I agree” statement signifying consent to the provider’s terms of use.

Ever wonder what is in the fine print? At the end of its terms of service, Yahoo! explicitly states that an account cannot be transferred: “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.” Similarly, Twitter is very clear that it will not give anyone access to a deceased user’s account.  However, they will accept a request from an immediate family member, or estate representative, to deactivate the account.  Facebook permits someone to “Report a Deceased Person,” which will allow an immediate family member, upon verification, to memorialize the account of the deceased user, delete the account or remove it altogether.  Through Facebook’s “legacy contact” function, a user can designate a contact with authority to respond to new friend requests, update cover and profile photos, and archive Facebook posts and photos after the death of the user.

There’s plenty you can do now to ensure you get to determine the fate of your online life.  If you did not read the fine print when you signed up for a new online account; you may want to read it now.  Don’t assume your heirs and family members will have easy access to these accounts after your death.  It is important to set up a plan to eliminate as much red tape as possible for when the unexpected happens.