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Posthumous email?

By tewl in Internet
Mon Dec 04, 2000 at 06:35:41 PM EST
Tags: Help! (Ask Kuro5hin) (all tags)
Help! (Ask Kuro5hin)

I had a friend die recently very suddenly, it is still quite a shock. She used web-based email and had quite and extensive address book. The only copy in existence is in her email account.

She had many friends, was loved and respected, and she kept in touch with most through email.

My question is- is there anyway to get the web-based email company to release the info on her account? I'm sure most of her contacts do not know of her untimely death, and I would like to let them know. She was also on several human rights and environmental mailing lists (I wish I knew which ones).

I just hate to think of her friends, many from various parts of the world that would have no idea of her untimely death, to keep emailing her with no response.

How would one deal with this?


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Posthumous email? | 31 comments (28 topical, 3 editorial, 0 hidden)
Have you contacted the email provider? (3.33 / 6) (#2)
by Estanislao Martínez on Mon Dec 04, 2000 at 05:37:23 PM EST

That is, of course, the first thing to do.

However, I don't think anybody has a right to the contents of the account, save the next-of-kin. So you shouldn't ask for it yourself.


Shouldn't be TOO hard... (4.53 / 13) (#3)
by bradenmcg on Mon Dec 04, 2000 at 05:38:31 PM EST

It's probably do-able.

The executor of her estate would be the person in the best position to get the access. My grandmother died a while back and I got to watch my mom deal with the position of executor. (With a large estate, this is a bitch of a job... but I digress.)

IANAL... But from what I saw, the executor has almost all of the power that the deceased had. They take over the finances for the time being, can write checks out of that, etc, etc. They would probably be the best person to have contact the webmail company, preferrably by phone and with a copy of the death certificate available to fax to the company.

I'm sorry for your loss, and I hope you can get that access to set her other friends' minds at rest.

<leonphelps>Yeah, now, uh, "sig," what is that?</leonphelps>

My condolences (3.90 / 11) (#4)
by Grum on Mon Dec 04, 2000 at 05:41:35 PM EST

I'm sorry to hear about your loss.
In answer to your question, it would be very hard to get a company to grant you access to another person's email account. I think they would only do it for a close relative (spouse, parent, sibling) but not a friend. I also think it would take some undeniable proof that the person is deceased. Can you imagine the potential lawsuits if someone tricked a company into giving up someone else's email account, and something malicious occurred? I think the company would rather error on the side of caution and be (unfortunately) callous about refusing a request from a friend.
Good luck in your attempt, though. I'm going to go home and give my girlfriend all my friend's email addresses, "just in case". It's too bad it takes an unhappy event to make people think of such simple things like this.


Which is why you need someone... (4.09 / 11) (#7)
by bradenmcg on Mon Dec 04, 2000 at 05:49:21 PM EST

... with legal rights to access that data.

Enter the executor of an estate. The entire point of this person is to act in the stead of the deceased to help clean up loose ends, tie up all the debts and outstanding problems, get the money together, and then distribute it as the deceased would want it distributed (as per a will or other procedures).

Executors can get at pretty much ANY "personal" information about the deceased. Bank accounts, money market accounts, blah, blah, blah. It takes proper paper trail (certified copy of the death certificate, possibly more than that) and some phone calls, but it works. I've seen it. The author of this post probably can't do anything about it, but he/she should contact the executor of the estate and ask them to talk to the webmail company.

98% chance they will grant the access.

<leonphelps>Yeah, now, uh, "sig," what is that?</leonphelps>
[ Parent ]

Exactly. (3.77 / 9) (#10)
by tewl on Mon Dec 04, 2000 at 05:52:17 PM EST

Her sister, also a good friend of mine, is the executor, she has enough to deal with at the moment, so I just wanted to find out what the correct process in doing this would be, to make it easier on her sister.

Thanks :)

[ Parent ]
Yeah... (3.50 / 4) (#13)
by bradenmcg on Mon Dec 04, 2000 at 06:01:40 PM EST

You're welcome...

I know how it is, trust me. Watching my mom handle her mother's death and handle closing the estate was sometimes hard to see... Often times it actually makes it easier to get over the death of the person though, you can take your mind off of it sometimes to deal with the busywork involved in the work. (It is a lot of work too, depending on the person... I remember my mom always needing to get extra copies of the death certificate, and then those copies need to be certified by a notary... pain in the arse.)

My understanding is that the best MO is to have the executor call them, tell them the circumstances, and tell them she's got the death certificate as proof. They may actually want to physically see it, which means you may need to mail it. IIRC, for it to be considered still valid and legal, it needs to go through registered mail or something like that, I remember my mom spending a lot of time with registered mail, notaries, and such... It's a pain, but it's a very honorable and heartfelt goal.

Best of luck to you.

<leonphelps>Yeah, now, uh, "sig," what is that?</leonphelps>
[ Parent ]

Break in? (3.00 / 8) (#5)
by whatnotever on Mon Dec 04, 2000 at 05:42:35 PM EST

Depending on how security-minded she was, the easiest thing to do might be to figure out her password and break into her account. She must use passwords other places, see if you can get a password from one of them. If you have access to her computer (if she has one), you might be able to dig something up there, also.

I can't really think of any reason why the company itself would let you in, though. It would be very difficult for them to verify everything involved (1: the account belongs to your friend 2: your friend is indeed dead 3: you are indeed her friend) and not worth their time. It might not even be worth your time, effort (and maybe money, if a lawyer is needed).

The only other thing I can recommend is wait until a hole is found in the system... not useful, I know.

What have you tried so far?

I often think of this myself. All of my email/address-books are on servers run by people who know me or know my friends, though.

That's just wrong (3.00 / 9) (#14)
by Global-Lightning on Mon Dec 04, 2000 at 06:35:40 PM EST

1. Breaking into a dead person's email just seams like a new form of grave-robbing. Just thinking about it makes me queasy...

2. Just because a friend of yours passes on doesn't mean they no longer have right to privacy. What makes you more qualified to access their account than their surviving family?

3. You might be a 133t h4x0r, but just imagine the legal consequences if you got caught. What could you be trying to break in for? Personal information? Financial? Even if you aren't convicted, expect to have you equipment confiscated, torn apart, and returned 2+ years later, if ever.

Do the right thing (TM) and get in contact with the deceased's family, explain the situation, and offer to help them. Now wouldn't that be easier?

[ Parent ]
Um... (3.66 / 3) (#25)
by whatnotever on Tue Dec 05, 2000 at 01:14:26 PM EST

Tewl is asking how she can access this person's account. This is one way to do so.

I assume that Tewl is working *with* the family in this matter, and that she is trying to gain access for the reasons she stated.

This is not about motives, I'm just offering a method to accomplish what was requested.

[ Parent ]
Pardon me for asking but... (2.08 / 12) (#8)
by marlowe on Mon Dec 04, 2000 at 05:50:31 PM EST

how do we know you're telling the truth?

I can think of less noble reasons someone might want to do this.

-- The Americans are the Jews of the 21st century. Only we won't go as quietly to the gas chambers. --
Why does that matter? (3.55 / 9) (#11)
by bradenmcg on Mon Dec 04, 2000 at 05:54:17 PM EST

Does it matter if the poster is telling the truth?

The only way he/she will ever get access is by showing proper death certificates and such to the right people... If tewl wanted to lie about it, ok fine, but it doesn't matter in the long run. Were it a hypothetical situation, the answer is still the same.

It's kind of low to say "why should we believe that your friend died," especially if you don't know the person and have no reason to believe contrary to their statement... :-/

<leonphelps>Yeah, now, uh, "sig," what is that?</leonphelps>
[ Parent ]

I can see why you would ask that :) (3.87 / 8) (#12)
by tewl on Mon Dec 04, 2000 at 05:54:53 PM EST

But I assure you I'm telling the truth :)

I know I won't gain access by myself, but her sister, also a good friend is the executor of the estate, so I wanted to find out exactly how one would go about this, and then advise her sister on how to do it, she is "less-than-tech-savy" one might say :)

[ Parent ]
Have you contacted them yet? (5.00 / 1) (#30)
by titus-g on Thu Dec 07, 2000 at 10:18:35 PM EST

Phone them, write to them, tell them what you know (phone # etc) they should have no problem tracing it back.

Of course they may be busy busy busy employees and ignore you.

Phone or visit.

Most people aren't that bad when you talk to them...

--"Essentially madness is like charity, it begins at home" --
[ Parent ]

Own your own mailserver (1.25 / 8) (#15)
by mami on Mon Dec 04, 2000 at 08:05:29 PM EST

That's why I think everyone should run his own mailserver on his own SDSL line and be his own ISP. Other than the line into my home, I wouldn't want anything from an ISP. And I would expect OSS applications to be so easily be understoodd that anybody can run his own server safely without help from outside. The control should be at the end-users' end.

Not Bad Idea... (2.00 / 1) (#16)
by mawa on Mon Dec 04, 2000 at 09:59:27 PM EST

This sounds like a completely off-topic, insane e-mail, the equivalent of implying that everyone should have their own Universe.

But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense to me. Short of being extremely poor or service not being available, there is really no reason why someone couldn't get a DSL line. I'm not implying that every household should run out and get their own IP and domain name, that would cause chaos. Nor am I saying that people who don't have DSL are stupid. But I'd much rather have whatever@friend/family'sdomainname than some 20-digit thing that I registered through AOL...

Again, I'm not implying that everyone should buy a T1, register a domain, and setup a mail server. I'm merely seconding what's said. Although this does raise the issue of the person running the server being nosy... You can't exactly sue your grandmother for looking at your e-mail. (Well, you *can*...)
mySig v.0.0.1-pre -- new sig to come soon
[ Parent ]

Yeah that would be so nice (none / 0) (#22)
by FeersumAsura on Tue Dec 05, 2000 at 03:52:54 AM EST

Hmm. Try doing that in an area that's 2 hours away from the nearest city and transfer rates are usually about 2~3 Kbyte/s. If we want *DSL we have to wait until 2003 and pay £50/month ($120/month). I am in a rural area we don't have real phones in Cumbria. Pity us, I can't even afford to move out of the area. So that's a crap idea if you live in most of the world. Also most people are too stupid to set that up. Don't forget the amount of lamers who use AOL and buy ready built PCs.

I'm so pre-emptive I'd nuke America to save time.
[ Parent ]
sounds like a great idea... (none / 0) (#24)
by fsck! on Tue Dec 05, 2000 at 10:33:35 AM EST

...to anyone who hasn't tried it.

any consumer home internet access line is considered the same repair priority as a home pots connection. that means that if something happens to your private isp's link, it will (not could, but will) be days before anyone will come by and fix it.

for people like me (and i imagine most of you), that means missing around 200 messages, and you stand a good chance of being kicked off some mailing lists. this wouldn't be so bad if you could find someone to do bulk reliable secondary mx hosting for a nominal fee. dns too, so people can verify that myownprivateisp.org exists but is down.

or maybe i'm just bitter because i don't loop qualify for dsl.

[ Parent ]
Secondary MX servers (3.00 / 1) (#28)
by dave114 on Thu Dec 07, 2000 at 09:36:31 PM EST

Maybe you can get one of these everyone.net-like places to act as a secondary mx server for you.... maybe you and a friend could offer to do the same for each other on your boxes

[ Parent ]
My own mailserver ... (3.00 / 1) (#27)
by Fyndalf on Thu Dec 07, 2000 at 12:54:45 PM EST

I do this. It's great. But I get a couple of static IPs from my ISP. I wonder how long until 2 static IPs and 1Mb/s symmetric is the minimum standard for Internet access? A decade? Three?

[ Parent ]
Inspiration (Password Tips) (2.00 / 4) (#17)
by mawa on Mon Dec 04, 2000 at 10:08:28 PM EST

I once started to keep a list of all my passwords in my wallet. I eventually gave up on the list because I was, at the time, gaining many new accounts and, at the same time, losing many old accounts.

But the point I'm trying to make is that there's really no harm in having a copy of your passwords somewhere. Sure, someone might steal your wallet and find all your passwords. But, statistically, the chances of this happening are far smaller than the chances of a "script kiddy" guessing your password(s). The "average" computer person seems to think that a password is this thing that you must create and never speak a word of to anyone, yet they pick something ridiculously easy.

I personally suggest that everyone keep a list of passwords in their wallet, purse, desk, or wherever. Chances are slim that anyone will obtain the list. But if you're still paranoid, here's another little tip I picked up. Have a list of what the names are for on one side, and, in another column, list the passwords - but mix them up, in some order that only you will know. Just listing them backwards will confuse all but the most determined people who find it. Of course, this defeats the whole thing about people finding it after you die...

Sorry for my rambling, I just wanted to share this tip with everyone - it was handy while I kept it up.
mySig v.0.0.1-pre -- new sig to come soon

A few more password tips (OT) (3.00 / 1) (#21)
by DigDug on Tue Dec 05, 2000 at 12:44:32 AM EST

Right now, I manage my passwords and accounts on my Palm, using STRIP. Before I had my Palm, however, I was forced to either memorize, write down, or store my passwords in the computer.

Another solution I came up with, however, seems much easier to me, and just as secure. It allows you to have a unique non-dictionary password for every account you create and still remember them all. How?

Just make up the password based on the name of the service. For example, take the number of letters in the service's name, multiply that number by 5, and append it to the first three letters of the service's name shifted two characters to the right. Now, add three or four characters that will always be constant, such as 0okm and append them to that.

The resulting password for my Kuro5hin account would then be "mwt400okm". Simple enough, right?

Yavista - if you haven't found a nice homepage yet.

[ Parent ]

I thought of somethign similar (2.00 / 1) (#23)
by pw201 on Tue Dec 05, 2000 at 08:49:49 AM EST

I thought of concatenating the service name with some sort of "salt" only known to me (which would be the same for each service), and taking the hash of that. This is pretty easy in Python. I've not done this yet though: currently my password for most web services that I don't care that much about is just a fixed string which is the same for all of them.

[ Parent ]
Password Safe (5.00 / 1) (#26)
by cbane on Tue Dec 05, 2000 at 06:09:01 PM EST

I use a program called Password Safe to store all of my passwords. It was created by Counterpane Labs and stores them in a database encrypted using the Blowfish algorithm with one master password. Currently, I have about twenty entries in its database, and so it's a lot easier to keep up will all of them. My old solution was a text file on a PGPDisk encrypted volume.
"[A]s every programmer knows, there is only one Right Way to write code. Sadly, all of them except me are mistaken as to what the Right Way actually is." Captain Derivative
[ Parent ]
Is Death a Reason to Violate Privacy? (3.50 / 8) (#18)
by the Epopt on Mon Dec 04, 2000 at 11:13:30 PM EST

I'd hate to think that my dying would be considered a valid reason to break into my various secure data stores. There a quite a few people with whom I am corresponding who (I'm sure) would rather not be permanently and publicly linked with me, even after my death.

After all, such a revelation could adversely affect their abilities to violently overthrown various established governments.

Most people who need to be shot need to be shot soon and a lot.
Very few people need to be shot later or just a little.

Then put it in your will! (4.75 / 4) (#20)
by DigDug on Tue Dec 05, 2000 at 12:29:07 AM EST

If your wishes in case of your death differ from those set standard by law, you are by all means allowed to have them that way. You have to, however, put it in your will! Otherwise, how will the people know what you wished for after you die?

Yavista - if you haven't found a nice homepage yet.

[ Parent ]

back to the old (3.00 / 2) (#29)
by titus-g on Thu Dec 07, 2000 at 10:04:16 PM EST

deny all
allow from []

--"Essentially madness is like charity, it begins at home" --
[ Parent ]

Everybody forgot the obvious (3.00 / 3) (#19)
by commandant on Mon Dec 04, 2000 at 11:17:07 PM EST

Most webmail services have a password-reminding question. If the question is answered correctly, they will tell you the password. Give this a try. If you are a close friend of the deceased, you may be able to discern the answer.

Good luck.

did she follow good netiquette..? (none / 0) (#31)
by Foul_Irony on Tue Dec 12, 2000 at 01:52:54 PM EST

I am sorry to hear of your loss. It is something that has bugged me since I started contacting people only by email. The only suggestion I might have is that you follow her emails back as far as multiple use of the To: and CC: box Many large companies still do this and besides being against the data protection act in the UK, its a great way of collecting customer details. The only other issue would be that web based emails tend to die after 90 days of non use. If asking the ISP or trying to hack in doesn't work .. by the time legal ways work, it will be too late. I hope everything works out well for you though.

Posthumous email? | 31 comments (28 topical, 3 editorial, 0 hidden)
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