Just like real life, virtual life after death keeps changing. A lot has changed since we first published this guide. We’ve refreshed it with new information based on updated options from the various social media sites.
According to a 2014 Pew Research Center study, a little more than half of all Internet users age 65 and older have profiles on social networking sites. And three Facebook users die every minute.
What happens to their pictures, their status updates, their likes and tweets and Google plusses when they’re no longer around to click Like?
Not surprisingly, social media sites have developed policies for dealing with a user’s death. And because of privacy controls created for the living, none of the sites makes it easy for survivors to control your account after you’re gone.
Of course, if the site doesn’t know that you’re no longer an active user (understatement), your page will continue to sit there gathering cobwebs and stray greetings from the living; people have been known to post birthday wishes on the walls of “friends” with whom they’ve been out of touch.
Some people are eager to avoid the “ghost account” scenario, and so a number of services have sprung up to deal with the eventuality – we’ll get to that later. First, a quick look at site policies, some of which have been updated in the past year or so.
First, a quick look at site policies.
Facebook policy is to memorialize a deceased user’s page for the benefit of the survivors. People can post their condolences, for example, or share photos. Memorializing a page requires proof of death via an online obituary.
As of February, you can designate a “legacy contact” — someone who can post things to your Timeline, such a funeral announcement or invite to a memorial services). Your legacy contact can’t see your private messages, but will be allowed to respond to new friend requests, update your cover and profile photos, and archive your Facebook posts and photos. To see how to set your Legacy Contact, click here.
Alternatively, a loved one can request that the account be deleted, but they will need to provide a copy of a death certificate and proof of authority under local law that they are a lawful representative of your estate. Given the complexity of this route, it’s clear why Facebook created the Legacy Contact option – seems like the way to go.
As for downloading content from your account — those precious family photos and the like — good luck. Your representative will have to obtain a court order and even then, Facebook makes no guarantees.
Twitter does not memorialize; your account can only be deleted, and your executor will have to give a copy of your death certificate, your ID and a link to or paper copy of an obit. Twitter will not give anyone access to your account on your behalf. To get the process started click here.
Google (Google+, Gmail and Youtube)
De-activating Google and everything attached to your login is tricky. With Google’s Inactive Account Manager, it can be done, but it will take some time.
Similar to Facebook, Google lets you set up an Inactive Account Manager in the event that you are not active for some reason. Click here and press set-up to name someone as an Inactive Account Manager for your account.
If you do not assign an Inactive Account Manager, your family will have to jump through hoops to get your account removed. Your representative must first provide an email that he or she received from your Google-related email address to prove that you knew each other. The next phase requires a court order for the information. If Google refuses access, the company doesn’t need to explain why. Click here to see what you need in each type of case.
Making Your Death Easy
Instead of making your survivors deal with your social media accounts or having your Facebook wall sit there after you’re gone, you can take action ahead of time.
Wills – or “Digital Access plans”
Rather than leave your family begging for access to your accounts, you can give them the information before you pass away and provide directives on what to do.
Some people add their account information to their wills – in fact, last year the U.S. government added this to their list of personal finance recommendations. But Gerry Beyer, a national expert in state and trust issues, told the Atlantic that he discourages this practice: Once a will goes to probate, he says, it becomes public – and after all that work you put into figuring out your privacy settings. Instead, Beyer advises his clients to reference a document in their will or draft a trust with a “digital access plan.” (Interested? Read more here.)
Legacy Locker, now halfway to being renamed Password Box (the company that bought Legacy Locker) is a service that passes your access on to loved ones. It boasts that it is a “safe, secure repository for your vital digital property.” For each account you list, you can pick a beneficiary and include instructions on what that person should do now that you have passed away. Two witnesses and a death certificate are required as proof of your passing. But at least your account won’t be locked in what the site calls “password purgatory.”
Tweeting From Beyond The Grave
Maybe you don’t want your online life to end after your real life does. Your wish for digital immortality can be granted.
Should you want to send post-mortem texts or video messages to loved ones for a personalized good-bye, you can use your Legacy Locker/PassWord Box account or sign up for a free account on Dead Social. Record your video, upload it to Dead Social and, once you pass away, the company sends the video to your social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn) based on your wishes — an annual holiday greeting to your friends, birthday wishes for someone special, anything’s possible.
Not enough afterlife contact? Dead Social will send scheduled email messages on your behalf to help celebrate survivors’ birthdays and anniversaries, or whatever other event on which you might want to wish someone well years after you’ve gone to the hereafter.
Some services intuit your death. LivesOn tweets for you based on artificial intelligence that analyzes your original twitter feed, and If I Die is a Facebook app that publishes a video or text message in the event of your death.
After I logged to LivesOn on through my Twitter feed, I was asked to assign an executor who decides whether or not to keep my account “live,” the assumption being, presumably, that the executor knows I’ve died, knows he/she is in charge of the account and goes and tells LivesOn what to do. Wile I’m waiting to die, I’m supposed to log in to LivesOn and tweet from there to teach it how to be like me.
Kind of a lot of work to have my account look like I am still alive.
What’s your choice? Keep your social activity going after you’re gone? Have your loved ones turn your Facebook into a memorial? Or just let your social media accounts turn into ghost accounts?