Privacy of a Deceased Person: Between a Rock and a Hard Place

nordpass image viasual about dead people's privacy

Navigating the Challenges of Digital Legacy Management

The digital footprints we leave behind can persist long after we pass away, posing significant challenges for those we leave behind. A recent study by NordPass sheds light on the difficulties of closing online accounts of deceased individuals, revealing a stark online privacy paradox. This study uncovers the extensive work required to secure the online presence of the deceased, highlighting the complexity, time, and documentation involved in the process.

Key Findings from the NordPass Study

NordPass’s research into the policies of 100 popular online platforms has unveiled some startling statistics:

  • Information Scarcity: Only 36% of these platforms publicly provide information on closing the accounts of deceased users.
  • Documentation Overload: Users may need to gather over 20 different documents to complete the account removal process.
  • Inactive Account Policies: Just a quarter of services claim they remove inactive accounts, with most doing so only after two years.
  • Financial Urgency: Up to 73% of the platforms offer paid subscriptions, emphasizing the need to prioritize closing payment accounts.
  • Memorialization Options: A mere 6% of platforms offer to memorialize the accounts of deceased users.

These findings underscore the pressing need for improved digital hygiene and preparedness for handling digital legacies.

The Burden of Closing Accounts

Complexity and Confusion

The study highlights that only a small fraction of popular online platforms provide clear information on managing accounts of deceased users. When such information is available, the procedures are often convoluted. Less than a third of these platforms offer a straightforward process via an online form, with others requiring contact with support or legal departments, phone calls, emails, or even in-person visits.

Extensive Documentation Requirements

The investigation revealed that platforms might request over 20 different types of documents, including death certificates, proof of authority to act on behalf of the deceased, and various forms of identification. Other possible requests include obituaries, birth and marriage certificates, wills, powers of attorney, and even selfies with IDs. This extensive list can vary depending on the platform, country, or state, adding to the complexity.

Essential Information Needed

In addition to documents, platforms often require detailed information about the deceased, such as their full legal name, username, email, phone number, social security number, account number, and payment details. The lack of such details can significantly hinder the account closure process.

Financial, Security, and Moral Implications

Financial Considerations

With 73% of the platforms offering paid subscriptions, there are clear financial incentives to close these accounts promptly. If left unattended, these accounts can continue to accrue charges, leading to unnecessary financial burdens on the deceased’s estate.

Security Risks

From a security perspective, abandoned accounts are vulnerable to cyberattacks. Old passwords and outdated security measures can be exploited by cybercriminals, potentially leading to data breaches involving personal and sensitive information stored in messaging apps or cloud services.

Moral Responsibility

There are also ethical considerations. Many people would prefer their private conversations, photos, and other data to remain private even after their death. Closing accounts helps honor these wishes and protects the deceased’s privacy.

Tips for Managing Digital Legacies

Given the complexity of the process, NordPass offers several recommendations to ease the burden of managing a loved one’s digital legacy:

  1. Prioritize Financial Accounts: Begin with closing bank and payment service accounts to prevent ongoing charges and financial loss.
  2. Address Telecommunications Accounts: Ensure that phone accounts are closed to stop associated subscriptions tied to the deceased’s phone number.
  3. Encourage Use of Digital Legacy Features: Advocate for friends and family to use digital legacy features offered by platforms like Facebook, Apple, and Google. 

Planning for Digital Legacies

The NordPass study highlights the significant challenges in managing the digital presence of deceased individuals. With the growing number of online accounts each person holds, it is increasingly important to plan for digital legacies. Encouraging better digital hygiene and making use of digital legacy features can help mitigate the difficulties faced by loved ones in securing the online privacy of the deceased.

NordPass is a password manager designed for both businesses and consumers, emphasizing security, affordability, and ease of use. Developed by the team behind NordVPN, NordPass offers secure access to passwords across devices, ensuring they are encrypted and accessible only by the user. For more information, visit