Obtaining someone's cell phone records after their death--hard to do?

I recently finished a book and the entire plot pretty much rests on this one point: how difficult would it be to obtain someone’s cell phone records after their death? This is assuming you have the cooperation of their next of kin.

To me, it sounds like it would be trivially easy to obtain this info assuming you had the next of kin request it. Hell, you could probably do it over the phone.

Am I right?

Your Right to Privacy does not expire just because you do.

Okay, in some places it does, in some places it doesn’t and in a few places they’re still fighting this one way or the other.

A Corporation will likely play it safe - whichever way it thinks is playing it safe.

Not phone records per-se, but some phone bills are very detailed and so you might be able to figure out who they called and when and from where if you had their last phone bill (which if nobody told the phone company they were deceased, you could just snatch out of their mailbox, right?).

My phone bill is an email that says that my bill is ready, I should log onto my online account and check/pay it. My kids don’t know the password to this account.

If the decedant left an executor over their estate, and that wasn’t you, you would have a difficult time obtaining those records without the executor’s assistance.

If the decedant left no executor or power of attorney to handle their estate, then it would be up to the probate court to appoint someone to be executor, which would normally be the closest living relative.

Not a slam dunk to get some dead person’s phone records.

Someone else mentioned it up thread, but the cell phone bill for our work shows me every call every phone made, how long it lasted, where it originated (the physical location of the phone at that time) and how much it cost. If they have a bill like that, it’s just a matter of getting it from their house.

Thanks for the responses. The book doesn’t mention whether the character died intestate or not, but I suppose if he did that it could take months to get the cell phone records.

The protagonist takes extreme risks in order to get the cell phone bill from Russian gangsters (they stole it from the dead man) instead of going through official channels. It just seemed jarring to me.

I guess it’s harder than I thought to get the records, but I wish the author had addressed it in some way. It was still a pretty good thriller, though.

Just write the cell phone company, saying “my father john smith died, and I am dealing with his estate. Can you please send me a copy of the current bill, so I can pay this?”

The cell phone company will have the bill to you very quickly. They want their money!

How are you defining “cell phone records”? My sister died in a car accident in September, and we could easily log into her AT&T account thanks to the fact that she kept a book with her passwords in it, but that only told us the phone numbers she called and texted (and received calls and texts from) and the duration of those calls.

We saw that she was having a text conversation with someone at a number we didn’t recognize that lasted four hours and went right up until 8 minutes before the accident. Needless to say, we wanted to know the nature of these texts, and her cell phone was not recovered from the wreck, so we contacted the phone number she’d been talking to, and he was not cooperative. Obviously this made us more determined, so we contacted AT&T and were told that there was no way in hell we’d be able to get the actual content of the text messages without a warrant, and even then it would be difficult because apparently they only stay in the system for a month or so.

Anyway, my point is, yes, it’s easy if you’re just trying to get a copy of a bill or find out what number someone was calling or something, but it’s much more difficult to get the actual transcript of a text or other such details.

(And for those wondering, her phone was finally recovered from the car, took two weeks to power on due to the damage and the weather, came on once just long enough for me to see the texts, then died and hasn’t come back on since.)

If you had pretended to be the owner of the cell phone and could verify your infomation you can get whatever you want.

This is why I have a standard set of “fake” answers to questions for my bank account and such. Like I use a phoney “mother’s last name” and such. I know the answer I put, but if someone knew my mother’s maiden name, they’d get the answer wrong by giving it.

It’s not as hard as most people think to get records. Most of these are protected by people who make $1+minimum wage. Slip them a twenty or such and they’ll be happy to “accidently” leave the info where you can get it.

We had a recent case in Chicago where an FBI employee, not an agent but she was a clerk that used to type up things. Anyway she was selling that information. She got busted for $200. I mean what kind of an idiot, especially in today’s economy, risks a good paying federal job for a few hundred bucks. Well she did.

Money talks, it may have to raise its voice to get you records but you can.

Sorry, I probably didn’t write that very clearly. What I meant is that she was having a texting conversation with a friend of hers, someone we didn’t know. So we called the phone number and left messages on his voice mail, but he didn’t return our calls.

Only then did we call AT&T, and they told us you cannot get the actual transcript of the text messages without a warrant, and we’ve since spoken with several lawyers and policemen who agree with this. The first thing we tried was what I think you’re suggesting, which is pretending to be my sister and asking for the records, and they said they can’t do that without a warrant. I guarantee you, getting the actual print-out of a text conversation is not as easy as calling your phone company and saying, “Hey, can you email this to me please?”