Two weeks ago, I wrote a guide to something most people hate thinking about: How to proceed with digital decisions after the death of a loved one.
The death of my friend’s mother forced him into hours of back-and-forth with Apple’s legal team to try to retrieve her iPhone photos. This made me realize that my own digital data is mostly stored in the cloud — unreachable by relatives, should I die.
That original guide described what, if any, steps people can take to designate who will inherit or control their digital data after death. I included directions for handling Apple, Google, Facebook and Twitter accounts.
Despite the somewhat morbid topic, plenty of readers contacted me, grateful for information about how to handle this sort of situation in advance. Like me, most of them were unaware that digital legacy solutions even existed.
This week, I’m revisiting the topic to include categories and companies I didn’t touch on in my first guide. I also found companies that are devoted to storing your digital data so as to be inherited by heirs whom you designate. However sad or unpleasant these circumstances are to think about now, it’s a lot less pleasant for someone to try to figure them out without you around to help.
Shutting Down a Deceased’s Phone Via Wireless Carriers
I contacted the four major wireless carriers, and learned that they try to make it simple for you to end the contract of the person who died.
Whoever owns the Verizon account can request a disconnect — ending the wireless account — due to death. If the account owner is the one who died, anyone can request this disconnect, as long as they know the last four digits of the deceased’s social security number. No death certificate is required for this process.
Verizon waives the account’s early termination fee — the steep charge you would otherwise pay for ending a contract before a designated date — as well as any remaining payments until the next bill.
Someone other than the account owner can keep the phone line and account active by assuming financial liability for the account. But only the account owner or the account manager can authorize or request this. To designate an account manager to take charge in the event of your death, follow this link on the Verizon site. It will prompt you to log in to your Verizon account and lets you assign up to three account managers for your account.
To cancel or change an AT&T account for a deceased person, call 1-800-331-0500 or 611 from an AT&T wireless phone.
Similar to Verizon, AT&T requires the account holder’s social security number or the security passcode on the wireless account. If you don’t have the passcode, you’ll need to verify the account by going to an AT&T retail store with your photo ID, the last four digits of the account holder’s social security number and a death certificate for the deceased person.
Like Verizon, AT&T waives the early termination fee or next payments due for the person who died. Unless the deceased lived in Oklahoma, the account can’t remain active under the name and social security number of the deceased. To keep the number with AT&T service, you’ll need to transfer billing responsibility via this link.
If your deceased relative or friend used a Sprint cellphone, notify the company and submit a request to cancel the service by calling 1-866-866-7509 or 611 from a Sprint phone. To make this request, you’ll need to provide the date of death or last usage date, the Sprint phone number and account number, the deceased’s name and last four digits of his or her social security number, the name, address and contact number for the person responsible for handling the estate and the requestor’s name and contact phone number.
You’ll also need to give Sprint one of the following: A death certificate, obituary, funeral card, probate letter or legal document from an attorney or court.
After these materials are reviewed and verified, the subscriber’s early termination fee and remaining installments are waived. If you’d like to keep the number, Sprint will help you complete a change of ownership or transfer of liability for the account.
To start handling the T-Mobile account of a deceased person, head to this website. There, you can choose to close the account or keep the mobile number under a new account.
If you’re an authorized user of the deceased’s account, this process is easier. To designate authorized users for your account, call T-Mobile’s customer care at 1-877-746-0909 or 611 from a T-Mobile phone.
Authorized users can close the account by providing the name of the deceased, mobile number, date of death and last four digits of that person’s social security number. If you’re not an authorized user, you’ll need to mail in the cancelation request with one of the following: A copy of the death certificate, electronic link to memorial website, obituary, copy of memorial, legal estate documents or other “reasonable” documentation.
To keep using the T-Mobile number and phone, call 1-877-746-0909 or 611 from a T-Mobile phone to discuss options.
Though Instagram doesn’t let you designate a legacy contact the same way Facebook does (described here), it does have a memorialization process that freezes the account. After Instagram receives proof of the death, the deceased’s account can’t be accessed or changed, and it is removed from public search. To report an account for memorialization, follow the steps at this link.
Some law firms that handle estate planning are starting to ask people for detailed instructions about how to go about accessing their digital data after they die. Meanwhile, services are popping up to help you keep your digital directives in one place.
LegacyShield, which is still in beta, was founded by financial service professionals. For $30 a year or $3 monthly, the site offers to safely hold your digital materials. It even protects them with cyber insurance, which is designed to cover you in case of a data breach.
Here, you can store digital copies of traditional assets like wills, trusts and estates. You can also store a list of account names and passwords, as well as directions on what you want done with your data (for example, if you don’t want your website memorialized). And you can store something called My Life Stories, which can include more sentimental family heirlooms like stories, recipes and traditions — along with photos and videos of those things.
LegacyShield plans to be available to all users by July, but meanwhile you can use the code KatieBoehret1! to try it out.
You could do what a lot of people do, and just write down all of your accounts and their passwords. But what if this list falls into the wrong hands, or you die without telling your next of kin where you kept it?
Services like PasswordBox (which I reviewed here) and 1Password provide you with a place to store all of your passwords behind high-security encryption.
PasswordBox also lets you designate an heir to receive these passwords in the event of your death. That person is notified that he or she is a designated heir via email while the person is still living. To verify that the account holder is deceased, the heir must provide a death certificate.
We all know we’re eventually going to die, but most of us try not to think about it much. Taking a little time now to set up plans for our digital legacies can make matters easier on loved ones and friends after you’re gone.