Deceased Domain Name Owner
So I know this isn’t the best topics to think about, but a recent sale of a premium name from a domainer who had passed away reminded me of my own estate planning for my names and issues around managing domains when the owner or contact passes away. I thought I would share with you some background, and my thoughts and recommendations.
Ill do this article in three parts, for our three types of viewers and readers. First I’ll cover domain ownership issues for every domain owner, or manager. Then I’ll cover what i think would be some processes for domain investors. Lastly ill address what I think the industry can do better.
First for domain owners, anyone who owns a personal or business website. This could be the company owner, the person who manages or in many cases the web developer who set up the website and hosting.
The 4 most important contacts and email addresses to manage domain names are:
- The Domain Name Owner – The Account Owner
- The Administrative Contact of the domain name
- And just as important, a third and less tracked issue, the owner and administrative contact, of the domain names used for these email addresses, or the backup email address if a public email service is used. So of all my names are under firstname.lastname@example.org, my estate better be able to renew myname.com
The domain name system is setup on a series of rules and protocols completely managed online. When you registrar a name, its the administrative contact who controls the name. Originally, a name cannot be moved or transferred without the approval of that administrative contact.
THIS IS NOT THE CASE ANY MORE
The account owner of the registrar account where the name is located can also control the name. The account owner can renew the name, thus keeping it current settings and status – and or setup and change hosting and email records. This means that even if a name has an incorrect or non-existent administrative contact, the website can keep working. This is why in some cases where an owner or manager passes away, leaves a company or forgets to maintain their email address, nothing may be apparent right away something is wrong.
If a name has been renewed years into the future, the existing website and email will work until the paid to date is passed. But there may have been changes in the manager, the email addresses sooner.
Domain Name Renewals
Its also important to know that the account owner plays an important role in that they setup the credit card that is billed for renewal. If the card expires, and thus there is no card to pay a renewal, the domain name registration period will lapse.
Without proper contact information, expiration notices, and notice that the name is a t risk will not be received. The inept attempt by the industry to avoid this doesn’t help either. ICANN requires a notice be sent annually to the domain owner to reaffirm and check their contact information. BUT THIS EMAIL IS SENT TO WHAT BE THE WRONG ADDRESS.
In real life, this would be like sending a notice to my old street address telling me I need to update my street address.
Registrars Sell Expired Domain Names
In addition the role of the registrar is in conflict with the customer. Most registrars will assume ownership of the owners domain names in the brief period after expiration and before they can submit the name back to the registry. This is one of the only times a domain name moves without any notification to the owner.
So in the case of expired domains with a deceased owner, the name wont go thru a complete grace period, the owner or their estate may not receive a notice that the name was sold, and the owner will not have redemption rights supposedly offered to all registrations.
Redemption rights are an exclusive period whereby the existing owner can recover the domain name, with additional fees before it is given back to the public. But registrars don’t offer this period when they have sold the name through an auction partner, or keep the name.
So What to Do?
The first thing is keep a list of all the domain names owned by an individual, company or investor portfolio; with their registrar and expiration dates.
The first step in anyone taking control after death is to know what they are dealing with. The first names that need to be tended to are those that have expired, or soon to expire. Its possible the main email address may not be accessible. You’ll need to know that registrars and logins. I keep this on a flash drive in my safety deposit box.
If you rely on logging into the account, you may not see names that have already been pulled out, or sometimes expiration date names aren’t shown as readily.
I also have a life insurance policy that will payout money specifically designated for my wife to enlist another preselected domain broker to help keep the names renewed while being sold. I have done this with my sports collectibles also. She has on a piece of paper in the safety deposit box the name of someone to call who I know can take the spreadsheet and go to work to protect the names from day 1.
The industry is the opponent of the owner in this case. If the registrant doesn’t protect their property, the registrar will benefit from being able to sell the name. Many registrars provide phone support. But its this very phone support that fell victim to social hacking and other means thieves used to grab hold of domain names. I can only encourage registries to make available some type of hold process for names and portfolios so the expiration process and resale process is put on hold.
Good luck and this is one blog post that I hope can benefit at least one owner now, for any unfortunate time in the future.