What happens to someone's social media accounts when they pass away? As we share more information about our personal and professional lives across various platforms, it can be worth giving greater thought to the implications of digital life after death.
Planning for this proactively can help us retain some control over what happens to our accounts. It can also be a consolation to grieving loved ones to know there's a plan in place.
For example, one thing many people love about Facebook is the birthday announcement every year. On a user's birthday, Facebook reminds their friends to wish them a happy birthday. For some, seeing this reminder about a deceased loved one may be a welcome chance to reminisce; for others, it can be a painful reminder. Planning ahead can help avoid such adverse effects.
Managing the Social Estate
It's worth making your digital life after death part of your estate planning process — even if for no other reason than to help make things easier for your loved ones.
Social media platforms are legally required to maintain increasingly stringent privacy standards, some of which include the rights of a deceased person's data management. A person might share their social media log-in information and passwords with someone they trust, or leave the information in a secure place to be accessed in case of death. But since sharing an account password is often a violation of a company's terms of services, that approach may backfire.
Each social media platform has its own guidelines for handling an account after a person's death. The list below explains these rules for some of the most popular. A social media platform's rules can change at any time, however, so be sure to check again for each one when you begin your own social estate planning.
Facebook allows account holders to specify at any time that they want their account deleted when they die. Users can also opt for a "memorialized" account — this basically means the account itself is no longer active, but friends and loved ones can continue to share memories on its timeline.
Of course, Facebook would need to be alerted to an account holder's death for either of these options to take effect. To that end, Facebook also provides a way for an account holder to name a legacy contact to manage their account after it becomes memorialized. That person will have limited access to the account, and can request that the account be deleted — but they cannot delete it themselves.
Instagram is owned by Facebook, so it has similar methods for handling a deceased person's account. To memorialize the account, a person will need to send proof of death, such as a link to an obituary.
An immediate family member can also request the account's removal by sending specific proof of their relationship, proof of authorization to act on the estate's behalf and proof of death.
LinkedIn does not allow anyone to manage a deceased person's account, but anyone can request the account be removed. LinkedIn has a form which requires several items to be emailed, including a link to the account holder's obituary, information on the requester's relationship to the deceased account holder, and the account holder's email address.
Twitter will work with a verified family member or someone authorized by the estate to deactivate an account after the account holder dies. The person should email Twitter and provide the requested information, including a death certificate. The platform will not provide account access to anyone, even an estate executor.
Pinterest will delete an account after confirming the user's death. Someone should email the social media platform about it, after which the platform may request substantiating information.
Managing digital life after death is one example of something an estate executor might do — along with maintaining other properties, paying debts or notifying heirs of inheritance — possibly with the help of loved ones, depending on the social platforms involved and the executor's relationship to the deceased.
Estate planning continues to change with the times — and, fortunately, social media management is one of the new aspects that can be relatively easy to figure out. Starting conversations with your friends and family now can help you determine the best plan for everyone involved.