What happens to your Google account when you die?


What happens to your Google account when you die?

There are only two things life can absolutely guarantee us: death and taxes. And while we can’t necessarily do anything about the latter (or the former, for that matter), it’s our responsibility to keep you in the know for all things tech-related. Today, that will entail finding out exactly what happens to your Google account once you—well, give up the ghost.

If you’re an Android smartphone user, chances are you’ve got all the data on your device backed up to your Google account: apps, messages, settings, with photos and videos synced up to Google Photos, and so forth. All this can add up to hundreds of gigabytes, if you’re on a monthly storage plan like most people.

Every large platform that offers any kind of cloud storage has to deal with users passing on and leaving their accounts behind on a regular basis. Idle accounts can pose a significant burden on the system, as cloud storage requires costly server space and maintenance. 

In January of 2021, FinancesOnline reported 1.8 billion active Gmail users, and Gmail—the world’s largest e-mail platform—is only one of the many services Google accounts provide. It doesn’t take a math genius to realize that the search giant has had to come up with an efficient way to take care of accounts falling into disuse by the thousands daily.

Google’s Inactive Account Manager

First of all, Google has created an innovative way for you to choose pre-emptively what happens to your account, should you decide to go off-grid on a years-long trip to a remote island somewhere—or, you know, kick the bucket.

The main feature that takes care of this problem is called Google’s Inactive Account Manager. With this, Google gives you essentially full flexibility to choose what actions are undertaken on Google’s part regarding account closure and sharing information with your next-of-kin, if you were to go AWOL.

The first thing you set up on Google’s Inactive Account Manager is the amount of time you want to let pass without any activity, before the Inactive Account Manager is triggered. This time can range anywhere between three months to eighteen months until any action is taken. 

What does inactivity mean? 

To determine inactivity, Google tracks when you last signed in to Gmail (mobile app or elsewhere), your recent activity in “My Google Activity,” as well as logging any use of an Android device under that Google account.

After you’ve selected your chosen idle time allowance on the Inactive Account Manager, you can go ahead and choose specific trusted contacts who will be notified once that time has passed. You cannot select more than ten people to be notified, although most people choose only their spouse or one or two close family members.

You can have an automated e-mail sent out when the time comes

You can also include a personal message to be sent along to the chosen person(s) when the pre-set period runs out, including any passwords or PINs you wish them to have. If you’d rather not allow full account access to them, but only share specific files/folders with important information, that’s possible too.

You will be notified by SMS and e-mail 1 month before de-activation

Once everything is set up, and you went AWOL, Google will begin sending you multiple notifications by both SMS (a phone number is mandatory for the set-up process) as well as by e-mail, one month before the allotted time is over. Don’t worry: your trusted contact never receives any notification until the full period of inactivity has run out and the de-activation (not deletion) has taken place.

Once the account is de-activated, your trusted contact will receive an e-mail (with the optional personal message), along with access to anything you’ve chosen to share with them. 

If you’ve opted to have your account deleted, that person will have 3 months (following deactivation) to access or download any of your data. After that, the account and all its contents across Google’s platforms will be completely erased from the cloud. 

You don’t have to have the account deleted

You can also choose not to have the account deleted after de-activation, in which case any chosen contacts with whom you share it will have more time on their hands to do with it as they will.

It may be useful to know that even though the full deletion process is irreversible, that e-mail address will never be able to be re-used again.

What if you never set up Inactive Account Manager?

Years ago, it used to be that after only 9 months of no activity logged, Google would take the initiative to delete an account (with no warning to the user) since it was deemed inactive. However, that policy was obviously less than ideal, and was recently changed, with a new rule put in place.

Inactive accounts are deleted after 2 years

Starting June 1, 2021, Google will be deleting any accounts that have been inactive for 2 years. Up until that time has passed, nothing will be touched or de-activated. 

As most of us know, the free storage on Google’s platforms (shared across Google Drive, Gmail, and Google Photos) is limited to 15GB. Any increased storage comes with monthly payments.

Accounts exceeding storage limit are deleted after 2 years

If you miss any of those monthly payments, Google promises a grace period of 7 days with no penalties, giving you time to update your payment information. After that, you will lose the ability to send/receive emails on Gmail, upload new files to Google Drive, or sync any photos with Google—at least, until you free up space or buy new storage. 

If the account stays above its current storage limit for 2 years, again, all its contents will be deleted.

Can the family of the deceased access the Google account?

Google makes it clear that it will not share passwords, credentials, or unauthorized access (posthumous or not) with anyone, ever. 

However, Google does leave some wiggle room for situations where the decedent’s family needs special information from the account, even when the Inactive Account Manager has not been set up.

Unlike Apple, Google has a somewhat standard protocol for obtaining access to a deceased user’s account. By going to this form, family members can officially request to do one of the following:

  • Close the account of a deceased user
  • Submit a request for funds from a deceased user’s account
  • Obtain data from a deceased user’s account

If they wish to “obtain data from a deceased user’s account,” they will be asked to fill in the following information:

  • Full name of the deceased person
  • Email address of the deceased person 
  • First name of relative/legal representative
  • Last name of relative/legal representative
  • Email address of relative/legal representative
  • Full address
  • Date of death
  • Choose which of Google’s platforms you need access to (Gmail, Drive, Google Photos, YouTube, etc.)
  • Upload a scan of your government-issued ID or driver’s license, the decedent’s death certificate, plus any additional documents

If the documents are in a language other than English, a certified and notarized professional translation to English is required.

Before the form can be submitted, Google also requires the requester to agree that once their initial request is accepted, they will need to obtain a court order issued in the United States. Google promises to “[provide] the necessary language for the court order.”

A parting note…

We at PhoneArena sincerely hope none of you ever fall into a situation where you end up having to use Google’s Inactive Account Manager, either for yourself or for a loved one. 

However, it’s always good to have a failsafe in place which, if worse comes to worst, could spare a grieving family a lot of further trouble. It’s always better to be safe than sorry, and Google seems to be well prepared and entirely on your side in such a situation.


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