Science & Tech

This is what happens to your email when you die

iStock / Pashalgnatov

Most of us probably know who our stash of cash is going to when we die, but what about our emails?

Each of us have ever-growing digital treasure troves of surprising emotional and even monetary value, easily forgotten when we plan for our deaths.

If you pass art work and personal diaries onto your loved ones, why not give over your emails too?

Alarmed at the thought? It's best to get a plan now.

If not, your potentially (very) personal inbox could suddenly become far less private.

Last year, a United States appeal court ruled that - if there is no will provided - a deceased person's emails can be accessed to discern how they might want their things distributed.

This means others can access your emails even if permission wasn't expressly granted.

In the case, Yahoo v Ajemian, 43-year-old Robert Ajemian died in a cycling accident. He left no will, so his siblings requested access to his email in hope of clarification.

Though most of us don't leave any intentions for our estate nestled between work emails and subscription offers from desperate retailers, Yahoo lost the case anyway.

The email giant argued that sharing Ajemian's communications violated privacy protection.

Albert Gidari, a director of privacy at Stanford University Law School, had similar concerns, telling Quartzthat the decision was "nonsense".

He said:

[Ajemian] chose in life not to share that information, and didn't take advantage of the tools Yahoo provides to allow users to export their data and store it offline.

Access to content is just gratuitous and unnecessary to fulfill the estate. 

He added:

Users discuss personal matters like their sexual orientation or that of their other family members, maybe drug use, true feelings about another family member or a friend, an indiscrition with a close confidante etc. 

Those communications were never meant to be seen by... a personal representative. 

You can sort all this out in your will

Don't want to rely internet companies hopefully deleting the account on their own after a certain period of inactivity?

You can either instruct someone you trust to delete your account or delete the account yourself before you die.

HT Quartz

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