When family members and fiduciaries1 are looking for a person’s digital property, e–mail accounts are a great place to start. E–mail accounts often hold information about other Internet accounts the person has, and gaining access to a person’s primary e–mail account can be the key to unlocking those other accounts using a password reset option for those other accounts.
Many bills can now be delivered by e–mail instead of by regular mail, so it’s important to check e–mail accounts early and often for billing statements. Access to e–mail accounts is also critical to identify business transactions in progress.
E–mail accounts may also hold correspondence with sentimental value to the family. It’s important to access e–mail accounts of an incapacitated or deceased person promptly to preserve these accounts, especially for a free online e–mail service. The main free online e–mail providers, Microsoft’s Windows Live Hotmail, Yahoo! Mail, and Google’s Gmail, generally close a person’s account if it is not accessed within four to nine months, and they generally delete the e–mail data for the account if it is not accessed within eight to twelve months.
A person may have e–mail accounts through his or her Internet service provider (for example, a cable company, phone company, etc.), through an employer, or through a free or paid Internet service like Microsoft’s Windows Live Hotmail, Yahoo! Mail, and Google’s Gmail. There may be obstacles in obtaining access to a person’s e–mail accounts, especially an employer–provided e–mail account or a free online e–mail account, which makes it important to plan in advance for access to a person’s e–mail accounts during a period of incapacity or after the person’s death.
1A fiduciary may include a guardian, conservator, executor, personal representative, trustee, attorney–in–fact, etc.