Google is one of the few ISPs that actually have a published policy on what to do to access a Gmail account when someone dies. http://mail.google.com/support/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=14300
Whoever is the lawful representative of the deceased or his or her estate can notify Google about the death via fax or US mail. The following information must be provided to them:
1) The representative’s full name and contact information, including a verifiable email address
2) The Gmail address of the deceased
3) The full header of an email sent from the Gmail account in question and received by the representative at his or her verifiable email address
4) The entire contents of the message attached to that header
5) Proof of death
6) A copy of the document giving the representative the authority to settle the deceased’s estate
There’s a catch. The representative must have received an email sent from the Gmail account.
Obviously, if a family member knows the deceased’s log in information – user name and password – he or she can just log in and cancel the account. There’s no need to go through the above process.
If no one knows the log in information and access to the account is desired or the legal representative has no email from the deceased’s Gmail account, this is what should be done.
The legal representative should send a letter listing the same information as indicated above and, in that letter, should request access. It may be provided although Google doesn’t specify the criteria under which that will happen. The only other way to gain the information is via a court order or other appropriate legal process. Google says it will work with families and lawyers of the deceased to grant access once they’ve verified those people’s right to take over the account.
If no one logs in to a Gmail account for six months, it’s considered dormant. If another three months pass (a total of nine months) without a log in Google may delete it. If access to the account is not needed, here’s the easiest thing to do – nothing!
To find out more about how to handle digital assets after someone dies, check out our book “Grave Robbers…How to Prevent Identity Theft of the Deceased”.