virtual wallet


Jennifer Short, JD July 25, 2023

Have you heard the saying, 'Nothing ever dies on the Internet'? While this is typically used as a warning about being careful what you post, it's also true that our online accounts can outlive us. Some 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 and retirement accounts. Digital accounts can be conveniently closed upon the account holder’s death, provided they plan ahead. Not having a digital estate plan could make things harder for your loved ones.

Closing a PayPal Account After Someone Dies

Founded in 1998, PayPal wasn't the first company to offer online payments. But, it was the first to obtain widespread adoption. Today, it is the top payment application among Americans.

According to PayPal, only the authorized administrator or executor of a deceased person’s estate can close the decedent’s account. To close the account, you must provide the following documentation to PayPal's Deceased Account Team:

  • A cover sheet identifying the primary email address associated with the PayPal account

  • Your email address and a copy of your government-issued ID

  • 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, you 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 After Someone Dies

Apple Pay is a relatively new player in digital payments. Since launching in 2013 the company has received massive adoption, reportedly surpassing MasterCard in the dollar value of annual transactions.

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 decedent'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 Deceased Person's Venmo Account

Venmo came out in 2009, and four years later was bought by PayPal. Users can pay for goods and services, transfer funds to friends, and receive direct deposits all within the app. 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. 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.

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 accounts. Logins can be stored in a password manager, such as Dashlane or LastPass, and shared with family members for easy access. At DuPont and Blumenstiel, we provide our clients with software called EverPlans. You can store all types of documents in this software, including login information for online accounts. Alternatively, passwords can be stored on a handwritten list included in your estate documents. 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.

Some accounts may need extra access information, such as a PIN or two-factor authentication. Be sure to include this information in your digital estate plan. For example, for two-factor authentication, include how to access your phone or email. The digital estate plan should also specify if online accounts are linked to recurring or automatic bill payments. These, of course, will need to be canceled. As part of settling the estate, payees must be contacted separately to settle any outstanding payments.

If any of your online payment accounts have a positive balance, that money can be transferred to an associated bank account. Or, you can specify in your estate plan where/to whom you would like that money to go, or assign a new owner to the account.

Ideally, a digital estate plan lists all devices and accounts your heirs will need access to. Your plan should also include information about how to access accounts and how you would like 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.

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. Call 614-408-0529.