What Will Happen to My Hotmail Account When I Die?

Your executor and close family members will likely have access to all of your emails.

What happens to your hotmail (outlook.com) account when you die depends on a few things, including:

  • Whether you've left a plan
  • Whether anyone tries to access your account
  • Your state law
  • Microsoft's policies about the accounts of deceased people

Have you Made a Plan?

The surest way to know what will happen to your hotmail account is to make a plan and leave any necessary instructions to the people who will be wrapping up your estate.

Providing Access

If you want someone to access to your hotmail account after you die, leave instructions about 1) how to log in to the account and 2) what to do with it. Surprisingly, under Microsoft's "next of kin" process, Microsoft will send survivors a DVD that contains all of the data held in the hotmail account.

  • "The content [of the account] will be transferred to a DVD, which will be shipped to you. To request the release of content and to close the family member's account, please contact the Microsoft Custodian of Records by emailing [email protected]"

This policy contrasts sharply with the policies of other email providers – most will delete an account upon hearing of the account holder's death. A Microsoft Q&A page explains that this next-of-kin policy also applies to executors, personal representatives, and custodians – if they can provide proof of their legal status as the account holder's representative. That page also clarifies that "family member" really only includes spouses, parents, and children.

Also surprising is that Microsoft permits surviving "family members" who have login information to access the deceased person's account:

  • "If you have the family member's sign-in info (e.g. email address and password), and you can sign in to the account or accounts, there's no need to go through the next-of-kin process. You already have access to all the info we would compile on the DVD."

These policies are good news if you want your survivors to access your account after you die, because they are likely to be successful. And it seems that they would have no obligation to close the account. However, you may not like this policy at all if you don't want your family or personal representatives to access your account.

Keeping Your Account Private

Because Microsoft provides account access to the families and representatives of deceased account holders, you will have to plan ahead if you want to keep your account private after your death. Here are some options:

  • Delete the account before you die. This is not always practical, but it works. Keep in mind that it will take a while for Microsoft to delete all of the data associated with your account after the account is closed. Microsoft's Account Closure Policy gives you 60 days to change your mind about closing your account. So, during that time, your account data still exists. And although Microsoft's policies don't explicitly say so, it is likely that aspects of your account data will still exist for some time after they are "permanently deleted."
  • Instruct someone you trust to delete the account after you die. You can leave login information and have someone go into the account and delete it after your death. Or you can have your executor or family member notify Microsoft about your death and request that it terminate your account. Microsoft has a process for this. Of course, because Microsoft is willing to send all of your account data on a DVD to your family or executor, if you want to keep your account private, you should instruct the person wrapping up your estate not to receive this information – and you'll need to trust that person to follow your request.
  • Depend on Microsoft's inactive policy to delete the account. Microsoft will delete a hotmail account if no one logs into it for 12 months. So if you expect that no one will try to access your account, you can do nothing and it will be deleted after a year of inactivity.

Instructing Microsoft What to Do With Your Account When You Die

Microsoft does not currently allow you to decide what should happen to your account when you die, but it might someday. Tech companies are recognizing that users might not want their accounts deleted, and some are providing tools that allow account holders to decide the fate of their accounts. For example, Google's Inactive Account Manager allows account holders to decide whether to delete the account or pass (some) account information on to survivors after a period of inactivity. Keep an eye out for Microsoft to provide a similar tool.

If You Don't Make a Plan

If you don't make a plan for your hotmail account (and no one hacks into it), your account will be deleted after 12 months of inactivity. If you do not want anyone to have access to your email account, and if you expect that no one will try to access your account, this "do nothing" approach could work well.

However, doing nothing will likely have an undesirable outcome if you want to either 1) provide access to your account, or 2) really make sure that the account remains private. On one hand, unless you leave instructions, the person wrapping up your estate (your executor) will have to deal with Microsoft to get your account data. On the other hand, in some states, your executor may be able to get access even if that's not what you want.

State Law May Affect Whether Your Executor Can Access Your Account

Microsoft is unusual in that it will provide your survivors with your account data – especially because until recently, it has had no legal obligation to do so, even if that data was needed to wrap up a person's estate. However, the law is changing and in some states an executor may – in theory -- be able to get account access even if such access is contrary to the company's policies.

In the few states that have laws granting executors authority to access digital accounts, "account custodians" like Microsoft could be required to provide access to executors. These are new and untested laws, and you can expect most companies to resist providing access to accounts, even in the states where the law requires it to do so.

You can learn more about this, including information about your state's law on Nolo's Digital Assets page.

The Bottom Line

If you do not make a plan, after your death, your Hotmail account will probably continue to exist for 12 months and then Microsoft will delete it. Or if your executor, spouse, parents, or children request it, they can receive the contents of your account and then the account will be closed.

If you want more control over what happens to your account, either plan for it to be deleted, or tell your loved ones how to log into it and what to do with it when they get in.

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