Social Media: What Happens After You Die?

Social Media: What Happens to Your Online Presence After You Die?
When we die, we leave all kinds of things behind: our loved ones, our possessions, and memories in the minds of those who knew us while we lived. Increasingly, those memories exist not just in the minds of individuals, but  online in our activity on social media.

For those loved ones left behind, the continued social media presence of a departed family member or friend can mean different things. For some, it is comforting to be able to look at the loved one’s thoughts and pictures on a social media profile, and to be able to gather on someone’s profile page to share condolences and memories. For others, the reminder is a painful one, with social media sites reminding them of birthdays that will never again be celebrated and suggesting online interactions with someone no longer able to interact.

How can you control a deceased loved one’s continued social media presence? How can you control your own online legacy? Here are some useful resources and practical tips.

Facebook: Deactivating, Deleting, and Memorializing
Facebook, as one of the most popular social networks, has had to develop a protocol for dealing with the accounts of deceased users. Facebook offers the options of deactivating, deleting, or memorializing accounts. Deactivating and deleting remove most of the deceased’s activity on the site; memorializing leaves their timeline up, “freezing” existing posts but allowing other users to post memories or condolences.

Unlike the situation with “real world” accounts such as bank accounts, the person deleting, deactivating or memorializing a Facebook account need not be the personal representative of the estate or even a relative. This can be helpful in some circumstances, such as where a younger, more tech-savvy friend helps an older widow manage her late husband’s social media. The danger, of course, is that someone will take action on a Facebook account without consulting the next of kin about their wishes, or that close relatives will disagree on the appropriate action to take.

LinkedIn: Managing Business Networks
Many people find LinkedIn a useful way to network for business purposes. LinkedIn often sends users e-mails regarding their connections’ activity, so without notifying the site of a death, it’s likely the deceased user will continue to receive these notices. If the e-mail account is shared with a spouse, these reminders are annoying at best and deeply painful at worst. As with Facebook, a non-family member can use this form to begin the process of removing a deceased user’s LinkedIn account.

Twitter: Silencing Tweets
Twitter, unlike Facebook and LinkedIn, require the person requesting to shut down a deceased user’s account to be an immediate family member or an authorized representative of the estate. Per this Twitter policy, those making such a request must provide documentation of the death, their own relationship to the deceased, and evidence that the account in question belonged to the deceased. Twitter offers the options of completely removing the deceased user’s account, or archiving the user’s posts so that family members can access them offline.

Controlling Your Online Legacy
As noted above, dealing with a deceased person’s social media accounts can lead to discord and pain if an unauthorized person takes action on the accounts, or if family members disagree as to how they should be handled.

One way to prevent this is to make your own wishes clear in advance of your death. This can be done through services such as Password Box, which provide a “vault” for your passwords that you can access from any computer or device. Password Box also offers a “Legacy” option which allows you to designate a loved one to receive your passwords in the event of your death.

If you are uneasy with the idea of using an online service or app to manage your social media legacy, consult with an experienced Colorado probate and estate planning attorney to discuss options. Davis Schilken, PC can help. Contact us at 303-670-9855 to arrange a consultation at one of our two locations in The Denver Tech Center and Golden, Colorado. We look forward to working with you.