If you use Google’s Gmail service or one of its other popular services, Google has new user account settings that are helpful for digital estate planning purposes. With these settings, you can direct Google to send your Gmail messages and your other Google data to a trusted person after your Google account “times out” due to inactivity. You can also set how many months (3, 6, 9, or 12) before your Google account “times out,” and Google will send you a warning before that happens.
In other words, you could set it up so that, if you haven’t logged in to your Google account within the last three months (e.g., due to incapacity or death), then Google should send your Google Gmail (e–mail) messages, your documents stored on Google Drive, and your data from other selected Google services to your spouse, to one or more of your children, or to someone else. You can select up to 10 people to receive a notification that your account is closed and, if you choose you can also send one or more of those people Google account data that you select (e.g., you can send your Google Gmail messages to one person and your Google Drive documents to someone else). You designate these people with an e–mail address and, if you choose to send them your data, with a mobile phone number also. One challenge with this is that the person you designate to receive your data may not be able to receive your data because they changed e–mail accounts, because they changed phone numbers, because they are incapacitated, or because they are deceased. So, consider naming more than one person to receive your Gmail messages and other Google data, and keep those e–mail accounts and phone numbers up–to–date. Also make sure to update your designated recipients if you get divorced or if a designated person dies.
Although these new Google account settings allow you to give your Gmail messages and other Google data to someone else during incapacity or after death, these settings do not transfer “the account itself”—just the data in the account. Google’s current policy is not to transfer one user’s account to another user.
Another option that these new Google account settings allow is to delete your Google account and your Google data after your account “times out.” Unfortunately, it’s an all–or–nothing setting (e.g., you can’t specify to delete your Google Gmail messages but preserve your Google Drive documents).
These new settings are called the “Inactive Account Manager,” which is under the Account Management heading [December 2013 update: Google recently moved the Inactive Account Manager settings under the Data Tools heading] of your Account section of your Google account settings. Note that this is not in your Gmail settings—instead, you need to navigate to your Google account page, which has this Web address: https://www.google.com/settings/account [December 2013 update: you can now use this Web address to go directly to Google’s Data Tools settings: https://www.google.com/settings/datatools]. For more information about these new settings, read Google’s Public Policy Blog posting from April 11, 2013.
Hopefully, other online account providers like Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo!, and others will offer similar account settings so that users can plan ahead for what happens to their e–mail accounts and other online account data during incapacity and after death. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s important to integrate digital property into your estate plan. You should plan ahead for incapacity and death with respect to your online accounts and other digital property: (1) to arrange for full access to your electronically stored information; (2) to keep costs down; (3) to provide for a smooth administration; and (4) to ensure no valuable or significant online accounts or other digital property are overlooked by your fiduciaries and family members.