All About Estates

Gamers are Letting off Some “Steam” After Learning that Purchased Games are Not Transferrable on Death

Pictured: A screenshot of a discussion between a Steam user and a Steam Support representative that has taken the internet by storm.

Usually, I get my trusts and estates-related news from legal blogs, LinkedIn or emails from colleagues. So, you can imagine my surprise when I stumbled upon a pretty big story in the world of trusts and estates as I was scrolling through the front page of Reddit.

For those who are unaware, Reddit is a social news aggregation, content rating, and forum social network. It hosts a cornucopia of different communities for just about any topic that you can imagine. It also has a front page where the topics with the most traction for the day appear, no matter where the community. With 73.1 million daily active users as of April 2024, there is no question that Reddit can provide a fair amount of exposure to different topics.

The thread in question that I discovered was on the r/Steam community. For those who are unaware, Steam is the world’s biggest online game store for personal computer (“PC”) games. It is operated by Valve Inc. (“Valve”). If you are a PC gamer, then it is very likely that you have purchased one or more games through Steam. After all, Steam has 62.6 million daily users as of August 2023, so any decision that Valve makes with respect to Steam is going to have an impact on a massive portion of the overall gaming community.

The thread in question is titled “the word is out – you take your steam games with you to the grave IG, lol. 💀[1] The thread contains a screenshot of a Steam user’s conversation with a Steam Support representative (pictured above). The user is asking the representative whether they can transfer ownership of their Steam account via will. The  representative responds by stating that Steam accounts and games are non-transferrable, and that Steam Support cannot provide someone else with access to the account or merge its contents with another account.

As of the date of this blog post, the thread has over 29,000 “upvotes” (a mechanism Reddit users can utilize for a thread to gain more visibility). However, what I find more interesting are the thread’s comments (and currently there are over 1,500 of them). While I have written and spoken about estate planning for digital assets for and with others in the trusts and estates planning space quite a bit, this topic has not really gotten a lot of exposure to the general public, let alone gamers.

Accordingly, I thought I’d take a moment to highlight some of the top comments from the gaming community and cross-reference them with my learnings as a practitioner on the topic of estate planning and digital assets. Some examples are as follows:

Just write down the credentials?


Another user, in response:

What will they say when they see a 150 years old account playing?


A similar comment:

Realistically though, if you just give access to your account to someone, especially if they have direct access through your PC, and access to your associated email/phone, is there anything stopping them from taking it when you’re gone? With that access, they can switch to their own payment methods for any future purchases, sign in/authenticate on new systems, change profile name and avatar, etc. Boom. It’s theirs.

I actually do wonder if/how steam “enforces” this. I’d assume (and hope) that they just won’t help facilitate a change in ownership, where they would have to deal with verifying people’s deaths, and giving access to a new person. But they’re not gonna actively seek out and shut down accounts that haven’t been reported as stolen, just because they suddenly switched payment methods and signed in on new devices, with all the proper verifications.


Password and credential-sharing is always a challenging recommendation. On one hand, in certain circumstances it does represent a practical and easy way to transfer an account on death. Where the impact of potentially losing the account is minimal, the convenience achieved by password and credential-sharing may be proportionate to the risk of such loss.

On the other hand, password and credential-sharing begets many other risks: the password could be old or outdated on death, it could be written down incorrectly, and sharing it increases its chances of compromise. It also usually violates the Terms of Service agreement (“ToS”) that users agree to when they register for and start using the service. And as the users above suggest, there is no telling when or how a company may choose to enforce its ToS.

On a related note, while Steam’s current Steam Subscriber Agreement does not seem to make any specific reference to death, it does state in multiple places that Steam games are non-transferrable. It goes to show some of the issues with ToS; for example, the Supreme Court of Canada has questioned the validity of ToS as contracts because they can be unilaterally changed, one of the parties lacks negotiating power and, yes, many people don’t even read them.[2]

My friends husband died of cancer with a sizeable Steam library. Asked me what to do, as they’d like their son to have access to the games once the whippersnapper grew older. Told ’em not to contact Steam for any reason and keep the credentials / phone info up-to-date as well as to keep using the account every now and then. Still sort of worried they’ll lose access to it one day.


Outcry and concern from users like this is one of the reasons why more online organizations are implementing post-death account management tools.[3] However, these tools require significant infrastructure and resources to implement. For many companies, unless the number of inquiries regarding accounts of deceased users is putting a greater strain on its resources, it is not economically feasible for them to facilitate such a tool.

That’s [expletive] that that’s the case. If you can pass physical copies down, you should be able to pass down accounts. Yes, you could change the info to someone else’s, but a death certificate and a will should be enough.


In addition, it is important to remember that Steam sells individual games. It is not a monthly/annual subscription-based content service like Spotify or Netflix. The average person is more likely to feel that they have ownership of the individual game that they purchased than they would if they were dealing with a subscription-based service, even where all content is digital and downloaded through the internet. However, please note that the rules surrounding intellectual property in this regard are complex.[4]

In addition, many digital assets related-cases have shown that the will and death certificate often aren’t enough. In response to this, even Good Old Games, a smaller online PC game storefront, said that it will allow for the transfer of a deceased user’s account with a court order. Yet, in some cases even a court order isn’t enough, depending on the jurisdiction and nature of account information involved. [5]

Sad thing is, my steam library is pretty high on my list of most valuable possessions


This begets an interesting question: would one still have to value the games for income tax or probate tax purposes? From an income tax perspective, the deemed disposition of capital property occurs “immediately before death”, so one may not be able to look at the fact that the licenses to the games are not owned by the estate to avoid it. However, there may not necessarily be any capital gains arising out of a deemed disposition: Steam games usually go on sale and often lose value as time goes on (remember, they’re all digital so there is no issue of scarcity). Furthermore, if the games are not transferrable in any event, it is questionable whether they have any value, or whether they can even be considered capital property under the Income Tax Act.[6]

As for probate tax, due to Steam’s policy it seems that these assets cannot form part of the estate and therefore cannot be subject to probate tax under Ontario’s Estate Administration Tax Act, 1998.

You actually can, but you gotta go directly to them and make signatures with the person that you wanna give your will with.


This is just misinformation, with some questionable grammar to boot.

Lets see what Europe has to say about that.


Another user, in response:

Don’t [know] about EU law but I’m quite sure that’s illegal under German law. The federal court of justice has already ruled that an account can be inherited. In the case they decided, it was about a Facebook account. They only had to decide that the successor must be given access to the account just like the testator would’ve had it. In an obiter dictum they said, it might be feasible and possible to prevent the successor from actively using the account due to its personal nature. However, a steam account surely doesn’t have the same personal nature as a Facebook account.


The responding user is correct. There was a 2018 German Federal Court of Justice decision that ruled in favour of the parents of a deceased Facebook user and granted them access to her account. However, it is important to note that this case focused on the privacy issues; it did not really examine the issue of how paid-for licenses for intellectual property play into the analysis.

Furthermore, although Europe does have the General Data Protection Regulation (“GDPR”), it explicitly states that it does not apply to deceased persons. The GDPR also focuses more on personal data than it does on paid-for licenses for intellectual property. So there may indeed be a gap in the law here for many European jurisdictions.[7]

You get to be buried with your steam library, like pharaohs of old were buried with their treasures and still you complain


Okay, I just thought this one was funny.

But in all seriousness, it remains to be seen whether Steam will maintain or change its position on this. The validity of this policy has also not been tested in court. I am not faulting online companies for protecting their own interests, but as this topic gains more “steam” (sorry) I do think online companies need to seriously consider examining their policies surrounding accountholder death to mitigate the potential risk of upsetting and driving away customers.

Until then, I still have a bunch of unplayed games in my Steam library. These days I feel like I write more about video games than I actually play them…in any event, happy Friday!

[1] For those who are not familiar with current internet lingo, “IG” is a short form of “I guess”, which in this context conveys a sense of mild to moderate disappointment.

As for the skull emoji, I would think it has less to do with the fact that this issue pertains to the topic of death, and more to do with its more common use. It’s usually a symbol for the phrase “I’m dead”, which doesn’t denote literal death but instead connotes a feeling of significant emotion such as great shock or roaring laughter; the idea is that the emotion is so strong that it is causing an out-of-body experience (akin to one’s death). Of course, this is often hyperbole, and experience has shown that usually the person who types out a  skull emoji in their message is likely doing so with a more-or-less neutral expression on their face. However, the hyperbole is part of the charm of using this emoji in a conversation.

As for “lol”, it is an acronym for “laughing out loud”. Experience has also shown that it is often the case that a person who types “lol” is usually not actually laughing out loud while doing so; rather, “lol” is used to connote that there is an element of humor in the discussion.

[2] Douez v. Facebook Inc., 2017 SCC 33, [2017] 1 SCR 751.

[3] For more information, please see a bulletin that I’ve written about this topic here, and a blog post that I’ve written about this topic here.

[4] I have written various blog posts about estate planning where intellectual property is involved for The Angle, Fasken’s intellectual property blog.

[5] For an example, please see my on this blog post on this topic with reference to Henry v. Bell Mobility, 2017 ONSC 6070, 284 ACWS (3d) 416. This is an evolving topic and a full explanation of the necessity of a court order is beyond the scope of this blog post.

[6] A full analysis of the term “capital property” in this regard is beyond the scope of this blog post.

[7] A full analysis of all relevant European laws is beyond the scope of this blog post.


About Demetre Vasilounis
Demetre is an associate in the Private Client Services group of Fasken’s Toronto office. He has a broad trusts and estates practice and has developed and implemented cohesive succession plans for clients involving a wide range of different family and corporate structures. He has also advised on a breadth of family wealth planning matters, including tax issues, estate freezes, cross-border and international estates, probate planning, disability planning, charitable gifting, asset protection strategies, personal privacy, intellectual property and domestic contracts. Demetre regularly speaks and writes about various legal issues in succession planning, including in particular the evolving area of digital assets in estate planning. His work has been cited by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice and he has spoken at both national and international events. Demetre has obtained the prestigious Trust and Estate Practitioner (TEP) designation from the Society of Trusts and Estates Practitioners (STEP). While Demetre assists many families with navigating these areas, he is also experienced in helping individual entrepreneurs and business owners, philanthropists, athletes, artists, authors, entertainers, social media influencers and various types of professionals.


  1. Mustafa Jilani

    June 7, 2024 - 3:07 pm

    This was a very interesting read and an area I’ve been exploring myself in the last few years, especially as MMORPG players are now adults and still hold on to legacy accounts with value. Thank you for bringing it to the forefront Demetre!

    • Demetre Vasilounis

      June 11, 2024 - 6:25 pm

      Hi Mustafa, thank you so much. It’s absolutely true: the games being non-transferrable is not only relevant from the perspective of the price of the games, but also with respect to any content within those games for which the user paid. Will the companies that publish games with their own marketplaces offer any solutions for transferring these items? If enough people voice their concern, it’s possible.

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