How to Access a Deceased Loved One's Gmail Account: 5 Ways

Updated

Accessing your deceased loved one’s Gmail account may be important, especially if your loved one died unexpectedly.

A person’s Gmail account is a record of their lives. Their inbox might help you uncover tasks that still need completion or accounts that exist and need to be closed.

You may also want access to your loved one’s Gmail to reset passwords for accounts that you need to cancel or to notify work colleagues and friends of your loved one’s death.

Jump ahead to these sections:

How do you access your loved one’s Gmail account if you don’t know the password? Will Google give you access? Let us answer these questions for you as you ponder your deceased loved one’s digital legacy

Are You Allowed to Access a Deceased Person’s Gmail Account?

According to Gmail’s help center, the company takes its user’s privacy very seriously. For this reason, they will not give you your loved one’s email passwords or any login details. 

With that said, Google may allow you access to the content within an account if the proper steps are taken. 

Here are three scenarios that Google may help you with if you are a relative or legal representative of the deceased:

  • Closing the account of a deceased Gmail user
  • Submitting a request for funds from a deceased loved one’s account
  • Obtaining data from a deceased Gmail user’s account

According to the information from Gmail’s help center, it does not seem as if Google will give you full access to the account in any situation. 

You may be curious if it is legal for you to access your deceased loved one’s Gmail account. Unfortunately, this question is tricky to answer because digital assets are subject to both federal and state laws concerning electronic communications and privacy.

The answer to this question may depend on how your loved one sets up their account as well as the laws in your state.

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Different Ways to Access a Deceased Loved One’s Gmail Account

We are not prepared to discuss the legality of accessing your loved one’s Gmail account after they die. Consult an attorney with expertise in digital law for answers to this question.

Otherwise, here are some methods to consider when attempting to access your loved one’s Gmail account.

1. Submit a request form through Google.

If you wish to gain access to your deceased loved one’s Blogger, Google Drive, Gmail, Google+, Google Photos, or YouTube account, submit a request form found on Google’s user support page

The first step on the form is that you must acknowledge this statement:

“I understand that, if my request to get information from a deceased person’s account is approved, and if Google LLC is the service provider for the deceased user’s account, I will need to obtain a court order issued in the United States. I understand that Google LLC will provide me with the necessary language for the court order.”

As you can see, filling out this form may be only the first of many steps of obtaining access. You may need to get a court order before you see any data.

You’ll need to submit the following information to Google:

  • Full name of the deceased
  • The email address of the deceased
  • Full name of the relative or legal representative
  • Email of the relative or legal representative
  • Address of the deceased
  • Date of death

You are also asked to provide a scan of your government-issued ID or driver’s license and the death certificate.

Going through this process does not guarantee that you will be given access to the account. Google’s website says that “in rare cases we may be able to provide the account content to an authorized representative of the deceased user” but their “primary responsibility is to keep people’s information secure, safe, and private.”

2. Wait to see if the data shows up after months of account inactivity.

Google gives users the ability to choose what happens to their accounts after a period of inactivity. 

Your loved one may have chosen to have their Google data deleted after three, six, nine, or twelve months of inactivity. They may have chosen you to receive a message that the account has been inactive for the specified number of months. The message will look something like this:

“John Doe (john.doe@gmail.com) instructed Google to send you this mail automatically after John stopped using his account.

Sincerely,

The Google Accounts Team”

Your loved one may have chosen another option for their account. They may have set up their account to transfer all the data after a specified number of months of inactivity. You won’t be notified until the months have passed. At that time, you’ll receive this message:

“John Doe (john.doe@gmail.com) instructed Google to send you this mail automatically after John stopped using his account.

John Doe has given you access to the following account data:

  • Blogger
  • Drive
  • Mail
  • YouTube

Download John’s data here.

Sincerely,

The Google Accounts Team”

If you still have access to your loved one’s phone, you may know when the data might be sent. Google will notify your loved one that their data will be deleted by sending them a text message and emailing the secondary address that they provided. 

3. Access the account using your loved one’s password manager.

We are not in the business of giving you legal or ethical advice regarding your loved one’s digital legacy. However, you may be able to access your loved one’s Gmail account if they used a password manager on their phone, tablet, or computer. 

Assuming you know how to access these devices, simply click on the Gmail icon or visit the Gmail login page. Allow the password to be filled in automatically by the password manager to log into the account. 

4. Look for your loved one’s password manager in obvious places.

Your loved one may have left a book of logins and passwords for their digital accounts. Look for a sheet of paper or a notebook of passwords near where essential documents are stored. 

You may also look for your loved one’s passwords in the notes section of their phone. 

If the listed passwords don’t work, you may look at the ones chosen for other accounts. They may have three or four basic passwords that they rotate through when they need to be changed. 

5. Ask yourself if you really need access.

Do you need access to your loved one’s emails? Perhaps you don’t. Once you cancel your loved one’s debit and credit cards, the automatic withdrawals will eventually stop. Your loved one may have left behind enough documentation to help you access financial accounts. If your loved one was active on social media, you could tag them in a post to announce their death.

Some families uncover unpleasant information about their loved ones when they dig too deeply after their death. It may be best to leave well enough alone. 

Make Plans for Your Digital Afterlife

Hopefully, your current situation will inspire you to make plans for your digital afterlife. What will happen to your accounts if you die unexpectedly?

Besides thinking of all the data and documents you have stored in Gmail or Google Docs, consider your social media accounts. Do you wish for them to be deleted after you die, or would you like them to be turned into a memorial page for your family members and friends?

Think about your digital photos that may be stored in the cloud. This data is password protected. How do you plan to share this information with your family members so that they can have access to family pictures after you die?

Make it easy for your family by creating a digital end-of-life plan for each of your accounts today.


Source:

  1. “Submit a Request Regarding a Deceased User’s Account.” https://support.google.com/accounts/troubleshooter/6357590?hl=en
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