Social media and other digital accounts have a life of their own. And that's not always a good thing.
Has this happened to you?
You open LinkedIn and your Home page displays the photo of a deceased colleague or family member, along with a reminder to reconnect. Or there's a notice that a deceased friend is having a birthday or work anniversary.
Maybe you're using Facebook after a loved one's death when postings made to his or her account suddenly appear on your Facebook wall. Or, because we increasingly live our lives online, your deceased uncle's Instagram account contains the only photos of your last family Christmas together and you can't access them.
Managing these accounts is just one aspect of managing a deceased person's digital estate. Think of all the online and cloud-based assets that require special planning.
So, what can you do? And can you plan ahead for your own social and digital accounts upon death?
Sometimes the problem is simply closing an account for a deceased colleague or family member. In other cases, you hope to gain access to a loved one's accumulated photos, videos or other important files.
Sounds simple enough, but it's not as straight-forward as you might assume. The rules and options differ from account to account — for example, you may be able to memorialize the account rather than simply having it deleted. And you'll need documentation to support your request. For some social media accounts, including YouTube and other Google accounts, you can even predetermine what happens to your account in the event of your own death.
Read on for rules governing Google accounts, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter and Dropbox.
If you're an immediate family member or the representative of a deceased account owner, Google may be able to help you close the deceased person's account(s) and/or provide you with access to content.
To communicate with Google — to provide a death notification, request closing an account, or request content from an account, for example — you'll need to complete Google's online request form.
Google also provides an optional Inactive Account Manager that allows you to determine who can access your accounts and data if you are incapacitated or deceased, or if you want the account deleted.
You begin by establishing a timeout period after which your account is considered inactive. As you near the end of this timeout period, Google sends you a notification by text message and/or email. When your account actually becomes inactive, Google notifies your designated contacts — up to 10 trusted friends and family members — that you are no longer using the account(s). You create the text for the notification in the Inactive Account Manager and Google includes a verification. You can also choose to share some or all of your data from the inactive account(s) with these trusted contacts. Optionally, you can request that Google close your account(s).
LinkedIn allows immediate and extended family members and certain nonfamily members — e.g. friends and co-workers — to inform LinkedIn that a member has died and to request that the deceased person's account be deleted. To do so, you complete LinkedIn's online form provided for this purpose.
You'll need to provide LinkedIn with basic information, including the LinkedIn member's name and email address, profile URL, date of death and a link to an obituary.
Deleting the account means eliminating the profile and removing access to all the profile's connections, as well as all recommendations and endorsements.
Twitter's process to request that a deceased user's account be removed is a bit different, and is limited to verified family members and other persons authorized to act on behalf of the estate.
You start by completing Twitter's online Privacy Form to provide information about yourself and the deceased person's account. Twitter will follow up with a confirmation email and instructions on how to provide additional information, including a copy of your ID and the deceased person's death certificate.
Typically, Facebook accounts can be deactivated, which is temporary, or deleted, which is permanent.
There is another option for a deceased person's account, and that is to memorialize it. A memorialized account displays the word Remembering next to the deceased person's name on the profile and, depending on the account's privacy settings, allows friends and family members to share memories on the Timeline. Shared photos and posts remain visible to shared audience members, however the memorialized accounts can't be logged into and the profiles don't appear in public spaces.
To request that Facebook delete or memorialize a deceased person's account, you'll need to be an immediate family member or executor. You'll also be required to upload a death certificate, birth certificate or proof of authority and provide other relevant information using the online Special Request for Deceased Person's Account form.
You can also establish a legacy contact to manage aspects of your account after it is memorialized.
Immediate family members can request that Instagram remove the account of a deceased loved one, but anyone can report that an account owner has passed away and the account should be memorialized.
If you want to report an account to Instagram for memorialization, you'll need to provide Instagram with basic information — including an obituary or some other proof of death — using Instagram's online form. Memorialized accounts can't be changed and don't appear in public spaces, but their previously shared posts continue to be visible to the people with whom they were shared.
To request that an account be deleted, there's a different online form. To verify that you're an immediate family member, as part of the process you'll be asked to upload a copy of the deceased person's death certificate, birth certificate or other proof of authority.
If you're trying to gain access to a deceased person's important files and records — and you're not already authorized to use the account — Dropbox may be able to help. However, because of privacy concerns, there's no guarantee that you'll ultimately be able to access the files.
To request access to the deceased person's account, Dropbox will need information and supporting documentation. The company has published detailed instructions on the web regarding the information it needs and where you should send the information.
Your time to act may be limited. Free Dropbox accounts that have been inactive for 24 months are automatically closed, after an additional 90-day warning period.
Digital assets — including online banking and other financial accounts, cryptocurrency, pictures and videos in the cloud, nonfungible tokens (NFTs), blogs and email, to name a few — can present unique planning issues regarding awareness, access and ownership upon death.
Unlike with tangible assets, digital accounts and assets can be more difficult for your executor and beneficiaries to discover. As a result, it is critical to ensure that your executor or a trusted family member is made aware of all of your digital assets and what you want done with them upon your incapacity or death. They’ll also need to know how to access them, including locations, logins and passwords.
State law governs access to digital assets. The Uniform Law Commission — a state-supported organization — drafted legislation to provide consistency among the states when it comes to a fiduciary’s power to access and manage of digital assets. Entitled Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act, Revised (2015)., it has been enacted by many, but not all, states Washington State enacted the legislation as SB 5029 in 2016.
At an even more detailed level, some accounts are transferrable and some, like certain email accounts and libraries of music and movies, are not.
Further, the rules for closing specific digital/online accounts vary depending on the account and its privacy policies or service terms. For example, you will need a copy of the death certificate to close an Apple iCloud account. AT&T requires the password or Social Security number.