What can the bereaved do?

What can the bereaved do?

At first glance, the matter appears relatively clear: whoever inherits is also the universal successor of the testator. He or she thus becomes the owner of property, for example house, money and other items such as books, CDs or letters. With the digital legacy, however, there are numerous legal questions and problems for which there are currently no clear legal regulations.

What can the surviving dependents or heirs do if the testator did not take any precautions during his lifetime?

Provide overview

The first step is to try to get an overview of the online activities of the testator. Here it can be helpful to go through the PC or laptop. Above all, one should look through the existing e-mail software or the browser history in order to get information about online activities.

Useful questions for this are:

Has the deceased received emails requesting confirmation of a user account ? Does he receive invoices online or are there any other references to deliveries from online shops?

Corresponding information can also be found outside of the PC, for example on the basis of stored invoices.

If the e-mails are not stored on the computer, it is helpful to have access to the deceased’s e-mail account. Then many more online accounts can be discovered. To do this, you should contact the e-mail provider of the deceased and clarify how you can get access to the e-mail inbox.

Contact the Provider

In the next step, you should contact the other providers and – depending on the case – request the deletion of the account or the transfer. What is ultimately possible depends very much on the provider.

In advance, it is also helpful to take a look at the general terms and conditions (GTC) of the provider to find out which evidence you have to submit in order to gain access or to have the online account deleted.

What documents do I have to submit?

If you want to take on a digital legacy, providers usually require proof of the death of the user. This proof can be provided via a death certificate. In many cases, submitting this is enough if you just want to delete the account without being able to access it yourself.

The death certificate certifies the death of a person as well as the place and time of death. In Germany the registry offices issue the death certificate, an original goes to the civil status register.

However, a number of providers also require proof that one is actually the heir of the deceased. This evidence can be provided, for example, by submitting a will or a certificate of inheritance.

In USA, the certificate of inheritance is an official certificate in the form of a public document in accordance with Section 417 of the Code of Civil Procedure (ZPO). For legal transactions, it determines who is the heir and what restrictions on disposal this person is subject to.

What is to be considered?

Fees are due for the creation of a certificate of inheritance. The basis for calculating the fees is the value of the entire estate. The estate value is determined by the probate court. In addition, the application for the certificate of inheritance is linked to the declaration that the inheritance is accepted. Applying for a certificate of inheritance should therefore be carefully considered.


If the testator did not take care of their digital estate during their lifetime, it may become complicated for the bereaved, and it is possible that you will continue to live digitally for a very long time.

The Rhineland-Palatinate Consumer Center has summarized the tips for surviving dependents in a checklist and provides further advice on its website.


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