It has been said that nothing ever dies on the Internet. While this dictum is typically used as a warning that what we put online may come back to haunt us, it is also true that our online accounts can outlive us, and even live in perpetuity. Having a digital estate plan that makes arrangements for what happens to these accounts when we die is essential.
In modern estate planning, digital accounts such as PayPal, Venmo, and Apple Pay must be considered every bit as much as bank accounts, retirement accounts, and other traditional financial and payment accounts. Digital accounts can be conveniently closed upon the account holder's death, provided they plan ahead. These types of accounts can still be closed without a digital estate plan, but not having an estate plan could make things harder for your loved ones.
Closing a PayPal Account
Founded in 1998, PayPal was not the first company to offer online payments, but it was the first to obtain widespread adoption and is the top payment application among Americans today, with around three out of four respondents saying they are active users.
According to PayPal, only the authorized administrator or executor of a deceased person's estate can take the necessary steps to close the decedent's account. These steps entail providing the following documentation to the company's Deceased Account Team:
- A cover sheet from the requestor identifying the primary email address associated with the PayPal account
- The requestor's email address and a copy of their government-issued identification
- A copy of the account holder's death certificate
- Legal documentation, such as a copy of the will, identifying the estate executor
Once PayPal receives this information via email or physical mail, the requester will either be issued a check or given access to the deceased customer's linked bank account to transfer the balance. PayPal will then close or lock the account.
Closing an Apple Pay Account
Apple Pay is a relatively new player in digital payments but since launching in 2013 has seen rapid adoption and reportedly surpassed MasterCard recently in the dollar value of annual transactions.
It is more appropriate to call Apple Pay a system rather than an app. CNET describes Apple Pay as the linchpin that makes digital iPhone payments possible using debit and credit cards, an Apple Card, or Apple Cash.
Apple ID is the account used to access all Apple services, including Apple Pay. The company offers three ways to gain access to, and delete, a loved one's Apple ID and associated data. The most burdensome way requires a court order that verifies the following information:
- The deceased's name and Apple ID
- The name of the next of kin requesting access to the decedent's account
- That the decedent was the user of all Apple ID-associated accounts
- That the requestor is legally authorized to act on behalf of the decedent
- That Apple is required to provide access to the decedent's account
The easier way for an Apple user to give someone access to their Apple ID is to add a Legacy Contact. This method involves an access key provided to a trusted person and a copy of the Apple ID account holder's death certificate. Once inside the account, the Legacy Contact can delete the Apple ID.
Apple also allows someone with an Apple ID and the required legal documentation to permanently delete a deceased person's Apple ID. Deletion requests are made on the Digital Legacy – Delete Apple ID page.
Closing a Venmo Account
Venmo came out in 2009, and four years later was bought by PayPal. Users, which number around 80 million and are mostly based in the United States, can pay for goods and services in the Venmo app, transfer funds to friends, and receive direct deposits. The Venmo digital wallet, like PayPal, can be linked to a user's credit card and bank account.
The Venmo help center provides details about submitting a deceased customer notification for the Venmo Credit Card issued by Synchrony Bank. It links to a form that asks for the cardholder's name, address, account number, and Social Security number, as well as information about the executor, next of kin, and requestor.
The Venmo support team must be contacted for assistance with the cardholder's Venmo account. Two options are provided on the help request form, one for customers who need help with their account and one for non-Venmo customers. There is also a place for adding attachments. This could include documents necessary to close out the account, such as a copy of the decedent's death certificate and legal documentation authorizing the requestor to act on the decedent's behalf.
The Venmo support team can be reached at (855) 812-4430.
Avoiding Complications with a Digital Estate Plan
While Apple, PayPal, and other companies have automated systems for accessing or closing a deceased user's account, some companies, like Venmo, are not so clear about how to access digital assets and may need to be contacted directly for assistance.
A digital estate plan that contains account login credentials can speed up the process of settling online payment accounts. Login passwords can be stored in a password manager, such as 1Password or LastPass, and shared with family members for easy access. As an alternative, this information can be placed in a password-protected digital spreadsheet or handwritten list.
- Regardless of the method, make sure that family members know how to access account logins. The digital estate plan should be regularly updated to reflect changes to login credentials. If a list of passwords is out of date, it will be effectively useless.
- An account may require additional access information (e.g., a personal identification number (PIN) or two-factor authorization). Alongside usernames and passwords, be sure to list this information to provide full access. For example, two-factor authentication requires an associated phone number or email address.
- The digital estate plan should also specify whether online payment accounts are linked to recurring bills so that automatic bill payments can be canceled. As part of settling the estate, payees must be contacted separately to settle any outstanding payments.
- If an Apple Cash, PayPal, or Venmo account has a positive balance, that money can be transferred to an associated bank account; or, a digital estate plan can specify transfer of account ownership to an individual heir. PayPal allows ownership transfer of a business account; ownership of a Venmo group account be transferred; and Apple Card Family can have co-owners. Alternatively, the balance of a PayPal, Venmo, or Apple Pay account can be gifted to an heir.
Ideally, a digital estate plan lists all devices and online accounts, instructions for accessing them (e.g., the associated email address, username, password, or PIN), and how to settle each account.
If you do not want anyone to access your accounts after you die, then that can be part of your legacy, too. Just make sure everything is spelled out in detail through consultation with an estate planning attorney.
Most states have adopted rules that govern how an executor, agent, or trustee can access a person's online accounts when they die or become incapacitated. To take control of your digital estate in a way that conforms with your wishes—and the law—get in touch with our office and schedule a meeting.
 Radovan Sekulic, How Many People Use PayPal in 2023?, Moneyzine (Feb. 27, 2023), https://moneyzine.com/personal-finance-resources/how-many-people-use-paypal/.
 Help Center - Personal Account, How do I close the PayPal account of a deceased relative?, PayPal, https://www.paypal.com/us/cshelp/article/how-do-i-close-the-paypal-account-of-a-deceased-relative-help220 (last visited June 28, 2023).
 William Gallagher, Apple Pay processes $6 trillion annually, edges out Mastercard, Apple Insider (Sept. 7, 2022), https://appleinsider.com/articles/22/09/07/apple-pay-processes-6-trillion-annually-edges-out-mastercard.
 Katie Teague & Jessica Dolcourt, Apple Pay, Apple Card and Apple Cash: Disentangling the Payment Features
Apple Wallet houses all three -- but what do they do and how do they work together?, CNET (Mar. 29, 2022), https://www.cnet.com/personal-finance/credit-cards/apple-card-vs-apple-pay-vs-apple-cash-differences-you-need-to-know/.
 David Curry, Venmo Revenue and Usage Statistics (2023), Business of Apps (Feb. 13, 2023), https://www.businessofapps.com/data/venmo-statistics/.
 Updating your Venmo Credit Card, Venmo Help Center (last visited June 28, 2023) https://help.venmo.com/hc/en-us/articles/360061172554-Updating-your-Venmo-Credit-Card-.