Navigating Online Accounts After Death
In the age of constant connectivity, our online lives can feel like extensions of ourselves. But what happens to those accounts when our physical journey ends? Our digital footprints can linger far longer than our earthly bodies, potentially creating confusion and complications for loved ones left behind.
In modern estate planning, digital accounts including PayPal, Venmo, and Apple Pay must be considered in addition to bank accounts, retirement accounts, and other traditional financial and payment accounts.
A digital estate plan can provide a crucial roadmap to guide your family through the often-murky waters of your online legacy. Read on to discover how to manage accounts like PayPal, Venmo, and Apple Pay after you're gone.
PayPal: Respectful Closure with Documentation
Founded in 1998, PayPal became the first online payment company to see widespread adoption, and remains the top payment application among Americans today, used in some capacity by three out of every four people in the US.1
According to PayPal, only the authorized administrator or executor of a deceased person’s estate can take the necessary steps to close the decedent’s account.2
The administrator of the estate needs to provide the company's Deceased Account Team with:
- A cover sheet from the requestor identifying the primary email address associated with the PayPal account
- The requestor’s email address and a copy of their government-issued identification
- A copy of the account holder’s death certificate
- Legal documentation, such as a copy of the will, identifying the estate executor
Once verified, PayPal will either issue a check or grant access to the linked bank account for balance transfer before closing the account.
Apple Pay: Unlocking the Digital Vault
Since its launch in 2013, Apple Pay has seen rapid adoption and reportedly surpassed MasterCard recently in the dollar value of annual transactions.3
CNET describes Apple Pay as the linchpin that enables consumers to make digital payments through their iPhones, using debit and credit cards, an Apple Card, or Apple Cash.4
Apple Pay and other Apple services must be accessed through an Apple ID account. The company offers three ways to gain access to, and delete, a loved one’s Apple ID and associated data. The most burdensome way requires a court order that verifies the following information:5
- The deceased’s name and Apple ID
- The name of the next of kin requesting access to the decedent’s account
- That the decedent was the user of all Apple ID-associated accounts
- That the requestor is legally authorized to act on behalf of the decedent
- That Apple is required to provide access to the decedent’s account
A forward-thinking Apple user can provide an easier method for gaining access to their Apple ID after their death by adding a Legacy Contact.6
This trusted person receives an access key and, upon presenting a death certificate, can access and even delete the deceased's Apple ID. Alternatively, anyone with the deceased's ID and legal documents can request permanent deletion through Apple's Digital Legacy portal.
Venmo: Demystifying the Money Maze
Venmo users number around 80 million, mostly in the United States. These users can pay for goods and services in the Venmo app, transfer funds to friends, and receive direct deposits.7 The Venmo digital wallet, like PayPal, can be linked to a user’s credit card and bank account.
The Venmo help center provides details about submitting a deceased customer notification for the Venmo Credit Card issued by Synchrony Bank.8 The form provided by Venmo asks for the cardholder’s name, address, account number, and Social Security number, as well as information about the executor, next of kin, and requestor.
Venmo provides less clarity than Paypal or Apple Pay on accessing an account after the death of a loved one. While the form mentioned above allows individuals to notify Venmo of a credit card customer’s death, , accessing the Venmo account itself requires direct contact with their support team. Be prepared to provide evidentiary documentation, including a death certificate and proof of legal authorization to act on behalf of the deceased.
The Venmo support team can be reached at (855) 812-4430.
Avoiding Complications with a Digital Estate Plan
While Apple, PayPal, and other companies have automated systems for accessing or closing a deceased user’s account, some companies, like Venmo, may need to be contacted directly for assistance.
Protect your loved ones from post-mortem password woes. Store logins securely in password managers like 1Password or LastPass, or create a password-protected digital document. Sharing access will help grant loved ones peace of mind and eases the process of online account closure.
Consult this checklist to ensure you take all the steps necessary to make dealing with digital accounts as simple as possible for those you leave behind:
- Regardless of the method, make sure that family members know how to access account logins. Your digital estate plan should be regularly updated to reflect changes to login credentials. An outdated password list will be effectively useless.
- An account may require additional access information (e.g., a personal identification number (PIN) or two-factor authorization). Alongside usernames and passwords, be sure to list this information to provide full access. For example, two-factor authentication requires an associated phone number or email address.
- The digital estate plan should also specify whether online payment accounts are linked to recurring bills so that automatic bill payments can be canceled. As part of settling the estate, payees must be contacted separately to settle any outstanding payments.
- If an Apple Cash, PayPal, or Venmo account has a positive balance, that money can be transferred to an associated bank account; or, a digital estate plan can specify transfer of account ownership to an individual heir. PayPal allows ownership transfer of a business account; ownership of a Venmo group account be transferred; and Apple Card Family can have co-owners. Alternatively, the balance of a PayPal, Venmo, or Apple Pay account can be gifted to an heir.
A detailed digital estate plan empowers you to decide what happens to your online accounts after you're gone. Create a comprehensive list of devices and accounts, including access instructions and preferences for each one.
If you wish to limit or prevent access to your digital accounts and assets, that’s also acceptable. Communicate your wishes clearly to a lawyer to ensure your digital legacy aligns with your values.
Most states have adopted rules that govern how an executor, agent, or trustee can access a person’s online accounts when they die or become incapacitated. To take control of your digital estate in a way that conforms with your wishes — and the law — contact Pavone Law and schedule a meeting.