While it’s not a happy thought, you might wonder what happens to your online content when you pass away. Each social media platform has different protocols for handling a user’s “digital estate” after death, providing various options from memorializing an account to full deletion.
Here’s how you can protect your digital estate and look ahead to what your loved ones may have to do to close your accounts.
What happens to your online content when you die?
The average social media user spends more than two hours and 25 minutes on social platforms per day. Considering how much time people spend curating and sharing online content, it’s important to know how each platform handles digital estates after death.
- Facebook: Facebook allows family or close friends to memorialize the profile with a “remembering” badge. Memorialized accounts can’t be logged into, and it will no longer show up in birthday announcements or other public spaces. Prior to death, users can choose to designate a “legacy contact” to write pinned posts, make changes, or delete the account after their death. An executor can request the account be deleted if they have a birth or death certificate, or proof they are designated to handle that person’s affairs.
- Instagram: Instagram, like its parent company Facebook, also allows accounts to be memorialized. Memorialized accounts have a remembering badge, content cannot be deleted or added, and it doesn’t appear publicly. An executor can memorialize or delete an account only with a birth or death certificate, or proof that they have been designated to represent the deceased.
- Twitter: Twitter allows for accounts to be deleted by a family member or authorized executor. The requesting party must provide both their own ID and a death certificate for the deceased in order to close the account. Accounts cannot be accessed after the death of the account holder regardless of relationship.
- Snapchat: Snapchat only allows you to fully delete the account. To do so, an executor must have the login information available and will need a death certificate.
- YouTube/Google: Any Google user, which is the parent company of YouTube, can predetermine what will happen to their account after a period of inactivity. Users can specify that certain documents be sent to specified contacts or set the account to delete. Family members or executors can request data or deactivation of the account from Google by verifying their ID and sending the user’s death certificate.
How to protect your digital estate
To protect your digital assets after death, you’ll need to have your affairs in order and accessible for your executor by taking the proper steps.
- Record all digital assets. Keep a list of all digital assets including social media and email accounts, digital subscriptions, financial accounts, blogs, etc., as well as any necessary login information. Having a centralized record will make it easier for an executor to figure out next steps.
- Decide what happens to your accounts after you die. Predetermining if there are any assets you’d like deleted, passed on to family members, or saved forever can help your executor take action in handling affairs. Consider whether you’d prefer your social media accounts be frozen and “memorialized,” or fully deleted after your passing.
- Save important files on an external drive. In order to keep your most important files preserved and easily accessible, back them up using an external hard drive. Storing important files on a physical device can ensure the executor managing your digital estate won’t have trouble finding important documents.
- Update your list regularly. An outdated list can lead an executor astray by having them handle affairs that aren’t relevant anymore. By keeping a current, comprehensive list of all your digital estates, your executor can easily access all necessary information.
- Work with an attorney. Seeking out professional help from an attorney can ensure your digital assets are in order. They can empower an executor so they’ll legally be able to act on your behalf after death.
If you need some guidance, an experienced attorney can help you create or update your will, powers of attorney, trusts, and other appropriate estate planning documents. The Law Office of Patricia E. Tichenor has been serving the estate planning needs of Virginia residents for nearly 20 years. Contact us for a free consultation to discuss your circumstances and how we might be able to help you plan for your family’s future.