When someone passes away, they leave behind physical belongings and assets, but they also leave behind a massive amount of digital content. Managing social media after death is a fairly recent phenomenon, and our generations are quickly developing the culture around it. So much so that virtual funerals are becoming a part of our social media culture.
In a recent study, the Oxford Internet Institute found that by the end of this century, the number of deceased Facebook user accounts will reach nearly 5 billion. This will outnumber the number of living user accounts! So, what happens to social media after you die? Who will have access to your accounts? Will you retain your rights to your privacy and information?
These are all important questions millennials should be asking when planning their estate. (And, no, you’re not too young to be planning your estate!) Because we don’t have much of precedence to look back on, this newfound territory can be tricky to navigate. We’ve put together this guide with 6 steps to help you better prep your digital footprint. Here’s an overview:
Create Your Digital Content Inventory
The very first thing you’ll want to do is take inventory of your presence in the digital landscape. You’ll be astonished to find out exactly how much of your life is conducted on social media and other channels.
Here are some examples to consider:
Social media accounts
Websites and blogs
Content stored on your smartphone
As you take stock of all of your accounts, make note of what the login process looks like, if these accounts come with any automated features, and whether or not they contain anything you wouldn’t want anyone else to see. In terms of the automated features, think of things like notifications that can keep sending alerts or emails long after you are gone. You’ll want to have a clear understanding of just how far your digital identity reaches so that you can later create detailed plans for your digital legacy.
Come Up With A Plan
Once you have a full account of what your digital presence looks like, spend time thinking about what you would like to happen to these accounts after you die. Do you want your accounts to be deleted? Do you want to leave them as-is? Do you want them to be utilized as a memorial space? If so, which ones? Is there anyone in particular you would entrust to manage your accounts? Write down these initial thoughts to start formulating a plan, which you can refine as you conduct more research.
Research Platform Policies Related to Death
Various platforms may or may not have policies related to death. However, you’ll find that most of the prominent social media platforms do. Find out the details on whether or not the account can be deleted, memorialized, or if it will eventually get deleted due to inactivity. Also find out what the requirements are in order for a person of your choosing to be able to access and manage your account in the case of your passing. Here are policy summaries for some of the most popular social media platforms:
Facebook offers the option of memorializing an account after a user’s death. A close friend or family member can request this by notifying Facebook. The platform will not disclose the user’s log-in credentials, but they will add a “remembering” badge to the user’s profile. The content stays visible, but the user profile will no longer appear in public searches or friend suggestions.
You, as the user, can designate a legacy contact for your account. That person will then be able to make changes to the account. Some examples include accepting friend requests, pinning tribute posts, and changing the profile picture. You can also choose to have your account deleted, rather than memorialized, if you prefer.
Because Facebook owns Instagram, the platform’s death policy is very much the same. Anyone can request for an Instagram account to be memorialized with proof of the death, such as a link to the obituary.
A memorialized account won’t appear different from any other type of account, but the privacy setting cannot be changed — it basically is frozen. The account can also be deleted entirely, but in this case, Instagram will require official proof of death, such as a death certificate.
Twitter will deactivate an account upon request. A family member or power of attorney must submit a request with proof of identification and proof of death. Twitter will consider public interest factors, such as newsworthiness, before accepting any requests to remove specific images or tweets.
This newer social media platform does not offer an extensive policy, compared to its counterparts. According to the site’s “Contact Us” page, Snapchat states, “We are so sorry for your loss. We would like to assist you in any way possible.” The policy does not allow an individual to obtain account access, but Snapchat will delete the account of the deceased upon a death certificate being presented. If you wanted to have someone manage your account on your behalf, you would need to provide them with your login credentials.
YouTube’s parent company is Google, meaning that most accounts are associated with a Gmail account. Google users can use its “inactive account manager” tool to designate what happens to their accounts after a period of inactivity that they specify. The tool offers advanced options, such as shutting down accounts or sending specified data to contacts of your choosing. Otherwise, immediate family or a power of attorney can request to deactivate an account. (Once again, they must be able to identify themselves and provide a copy of the death certificate.)
Decide Your Power Of Attorney
By getting to know the policies of various platforms, you may have noticed that it’s typically only an immediate family member who can make a request to delete or memorialize your account. Even then, they must be able to provide proof that they are a direct family member, and a copy of the death certificate. If there is anyone specific you have in mind that you entrust to manage your social media accounts (maybe you don’t want Mom or Dad seeing some private photos), then your best option is to delegate a Power of Attorney. By doing so, this person will be able to provide the social media platform with proof that they have been authorized to execute your personal wishes, even if they aren’t an immediate family member.
Consider Using A Password Manager
A password management tool can be a great way to prepare for your eventual death. By storing all your login information and passwords in a central location, you can take away a lot of the pain it will take for your Power of Attorney to carry out your wishes. Some password managers even provide settings so that your data is provided to selected individuals upon your death. It can be daunting for someone to try and hack into your iPhone, for example, if they don’t know your passcode. You can do your loved ones a favor by providing them with quick and easy, yet secure, access to the information they will need.
Update Your Trust or Will
Finally, solidify your digital inheritance plans by establishing your estate plan. This is a legal document that details all of your wishes to be carried out in case of your death. In your Trust or Will, you can provide a log of all of your digital accounts, and what you would like to do with each of them. In addition, this is the legal document used to name your Power of Attorney, so that the person of your choosing can be legally authorized to carry out your wishes. It’s very important to update your Trust or Will regularly, since our digital footprint is continuously shaping and shifting.
When we think of the words “Estate Plan,” social media may be one of the last things to come to mind. The concept of social media and the idea of passing down a digital inheritance is a relatively new phenomenon, and we are still shaping our culture of how to effectively honor a loved one through the digital landscape. If the idea of including your social media into your Trust or Will hadn’t occurred to you, be sure to update your Estate Plan as soon as possible. This way, you can rest easy knowing that your digital presence will be preserved, or hidden, in the way that you wish.