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Is It Illegal to Use a Dead Person's Social Media?

By Catherine Hodder, Esq. | Last updated on

If you have a friend or loved one pass away you may want to notify friends and family through their social media accounts. Or you may want to download their photos and keep important data. If they have a successful influencer channel, you may want to continue posting to keep it going or use it to raise money for a charity in their honor.

But even with the best intentions, if you do not have the proper authority, you could be liable for social media impersonation, a type of identity theft.

Take, for example, the story of a wife who took over her deceased husband's Facebook account, as detailed in The Petty Crimes podcast. A wife used her husband's account to reach out to friends to report his death. However, she kept using it to stay in touch with friends and post updates on her life. What may have started innocently as a way to contact friends or process grief may turn into fraudulent activity when posting as someone else.

Just because you share a computer or login information does not mean you have permission to access someone else's online accounts or post on their social media platforms. There are proper ways to close or memorialize an account, and social media companies have rules for notifications of a user's death.

How to Close a Decedent's Social Media Accounts

In most cases, the first step is to contact the social media account of the deceased account holder. You will have to submit some form of proof of death, such as a death certificate or obituary, as well as proof of authority that you have permission to handle the decedent's account.

Facebook Account

Facebook allows users to name someone as their legacy contact to manage their memorialized account. A memorialized account allows the legacy contact to make a memorial page, update a profile picture, and let friends post tributes on the deceased user's timeline.

To close a Facebook account, you must show proof that you are an immediate family member and submit a copy of the decedent's death certificate. If you are not a family member, you must prove that you are a lawful representative, such as a personal representative or estate administrator appointed by a probate court.

Instagram Account

Like Facebook, to close an account of a deceased person on Instagram, you produce a copy of the death certificate. You must be a family member or have a court order to administer the decedent's estate. Instagram also provides the option to memorialize the account.

Twitter Account

Twitter, now known as X, allows a representative of the estate to remove a deceased user's account. They need a copy of the death certificate and other information about the user's account.

LinkedIn Account

You must have legal authority to report a deceased member to LinkedIn. You provide information on the member's profile, date of death, and proof of death, such as a link to their obituary.

Email and Google Accounts

Contact the email service provider for details on how to close the deceased's user account. For example, Google allows a named inactive account manager to access the account. If the user did not name someone, you can request access to the deceased's user account.

Beware of Ghosting

Ghosting in this context is not where someone disappears from your life but a form of identity theft of deceased persons. These obituary or bereavement scams occur when thieves use the decedent's details to create fake identities to take out loans, apply for credit cards, or receive social security benefits. Often, these obituaries or news articles share the person's name, date of birth, names of family members, and enough personal data for thieves to create fake identities.

Fraudulent use of a deceased person's identity is a crime. But you can reduce the threat by closing the decedent's accounts and taking care not to broadcast too many personal details about them.

Take Steps To Protect Your Digital Legacy

When making a will and estate planning, make sure you address your digital legacy. You can name a personal representative to administer your estate in your will. Most states, under the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (RUFADAA), allow your personal representative or executor to access your digital property and assets. This will make it easier for your personal representative to close your accounts and reduce the risk of identity theft.

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