Digital Estates: What Happens to Your Social Media Accounts After You Die?

By Jessica Rhodes

What happens to your social media accounts after you die? It is something that is usually overlooked, but something that needs to be taken into consideration. Even if you leave your passwords and written consent with someone, most digital companies still consider this a violation of the Terms of Service and, subsequently, your next of kin could be held liable for breach of privacy. However, there are options for what to do with your various accounts and social media after you pass.

  • Google (Gmail, YouTube, Google+)

Google has what is called "Inactive Account Manager," which is a way to either share or delete your account after a set period of inactivity. You set a timeout period, after which time of inactivity on your account any trusted contacts will be notified, given an option to share data, and your account will be permanently deleted. If you fail to set up your Inactive Account Manager before your passing, members of your family can request the contents of your account. By providing proof of kin and a death certificate and possibly a court order, Google will review whether or not to release the contents of your account. Google will not give anyone access to the account, but in some cases, it will release the contents on a data DVD.

  • Yahoo

Similar to Google, Yahoo may release the contents of an email account on a DVD or on paper, but will not give anyone access to the account. A letter containing the request, a death certificate, and a copy of a document appointing the requesting party as the personal representative or executor of the estate of the deceased are required.

  • Microsoft (Hotmail.com, Outlook.com, Live.com, Windowslive.com, MSN.com)

Microsoft will release contents of emails, attachments, address book and Messenger contact list to the next of kin of a deceased or incapacitated account following a short authentication process, but it will not provide any passwords or access to the account. A death certificate or certified document stating the user is incapacitated, a certified document proving next of kin and a photocopy of a government issued photo ID of family member are required.

  • America Online

AOL will not release the contents of any account to anyone, but it is possible to transfer ownership to another AOL Username already listed on the account. The next of kin can change the payment information online through My Account settings, using the deceased Username and Password. AOL customer service will provide this information if needed.

  • Apple iCloud (Mac.com, Me.com)

Apple has no right of survivorship, which means rights to Apple ID or content within an account is non-transferable. Next of kin may provide a death certificate, in which case the account will be terminated and all content will be deleted.

  • Facebook

Your Facebook account can be handled one of two ways: either your account can be memorialized or it can be deleted. Either option can be chosen by the user before death. For either option, after death, a family member needs to fill out an online form with a link to either an obituary or news report confirming death. When an account is memorialized, all sensitive information including contact information and addresses are removed, as well as status updates. The profile settings are changed so that only friends can find the profile and post information to the user's wall. Login information will be deactivated, preventing anyone from accessing the account.

  • Twitter

Twitter will not release any passwords or information about an account, but can be deactivated with the proper documentation. The username of the deceased user's Twitter account, a copy of the death certificate, and a copy of government issued ID, and a signed statement including contact information and relationship to the deceased user is required to request deactivation.

  • Instagram

Like Facebook, an Instagram account can either be memorialized or deleted. A family member must provide death certificate and proof of authority as a representative of the estate. Memorialized accounts cannot be changed in any way, but followers may share memories on the profile. Instagram does not allow anyone to log into a memorialized account.

There are also sites already set up to help deal with different online accounts after death. Some of these include passwordbox.com, everplans.com, and planneddeparture.com. These sites are set up to store all your various passwords to any accounts you wish. You then select a 'digital estate executor,' a trusted person to receive your accounts upon passing. Once your digital estate executor has contacted the site and given proof of your passing, all of your passwords will be released to that person, with details on how you want each account handled. Some digital companies, such as PSN, Snapchat and Tinder, do not have options for account management after passing, and so it would be a good idea to leave instructions on how you want those accounts managed. Keep in mind, though, that it could be a violation of the Terms of Service for someone else to access your account, even with written consent. So read the various TOS for each company and stay up to date on their policies.

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