When your loved one dies, besides their property and possessions, they leave behind their digital presence. All social media accounts, emails, posts, photos, and YouTube videos become a part of their digital legacy. But how do you manage their digital legacy after death?
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Digital Access Laws
Under the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (RUFADAA) enacted by most states, a personal representative or executor has the authority to access digital property and assets. If the decedent dies and names you as their personal representative in their will, you may handle the closing of their social media accounts. If the decedent dies intestate (without a will), a court will appoint someone to manage the estate and digital property.
So, although you may be a close friend of the decedent or have their login information, only immediate family members or persons with legal authority can close online accounts. Depending on the social media platform, there are different ways to close accounts.
To remove the account, you must send a request to Facebook.
You must prove you are a verified immediate family member or personal representative (or executor) of the account holder and that the account holder has died. You must also know the account holder’s full name and Facebook URL account.
The easiest method is to send a copy of the account holder’s death certificate. If you don’t have that, you must prove you have the authority to close the account and that the account holder has died.
You could do so by sending:
- A copy of the last will and testament naming you as the personal representative or executor and a copy of the obituary or memorial card.
- A letter of administration (issued from the probate court) that appoints you as the personal representative or executor of the account holder’s estate.
If you are closing the account due to the account owner’s medical incapacity, provide a power of attorney document that names you as the agent for the account owner. And if you are a parent of a deceased minor child, provide a birth certificate.
The user may also name you as their Facebook Legacy contact. As the legacy contact, you may memorialize the Facebook account to notify friends of the account owner’s passing, change the profile picture and cover photo, and allow friends to add tributes to their timeline.
The process for deactivating an Instagram account is similar to Facebook. You report a deceased person’s account on Instagram with documentation that you have the authority to deactivate the account and proof of death of the account owner. You also have the option to make it a memorialized account.
Only an immediate family member or personal representative may request the removal of the deceased person’s account. They must contact Twitter with the request with the person’s name, a copy of their ID, and a copy of the death certificate. They will also provide the account holder’s name and user handle of the Twitter account.
Like Facebook and Twitter, if you want to close the account due to the account owner’s incapacity, you must show proof of authority with a power of attorney document, your personal identification, and the identification of the account owner.
You can report a deceased LinkedIn member to LinkedIn support with the member’s information, date of death, and link to their obituary. If you want to close the LinkedIn account, you must provide proof that you have the legal authority to do so with court letters of testamentary, letters of administration, or letters of representation. You also have the memorialization option for the decedent’s LinkedIn profile.
You may use a Google account for various social media platforms like YouTube account or to store your photos. An Inactive Account Manager has the authority to access your data if you have not been active for a certain amount of time that you designate. If the decedent did not list you as the Inactive Account Manager, you can still submit a request regarding the deceased user’s account.
Apple allows users to add a legacy contact to an Apple ID, which generates an access key. The user shares that access key with their legacy contact. After a user’s death, the legacy contact must show the access key and the user’s death certificate to retrieve the data on the user’s account for three years.
Tips for Deactivating Social Media Accounts
Follow these tips when closing or deactivating accounts:
- When sending documentation to social media companies, hide any personal or sensitive information they do not need, such as a social security number.
- Be mindful when making a tribute post or posting to the decedent’s memorial page. Avoid oversharing intimate details or sensitive personal information that people do not need to know.
- Contact the support page of social media sites where you know the decedent had accounts. Follow the instructions to shut down their accounts. You may need to show proof of death, proof of your relationship, or proof of legal authority.
And finally, plan for the closing of your own social media accounts by making a will and naming a personal representative. Set up legacy contacts or an inactive account manager if a site allows you to do so. The steps you take now will make it easier for your personal representative to close your accounts in the future.