What happens to my social media accounts when I die and why should I care?

Wills, Estates & Succession Planning 12 September 2018

In an era of ever-increasing online presence, not many people consider what happens to their social media accounts upon their death and its impact on family members left behind. Without action, a social media account will simply continue exist on the World Wide Web as an unmanaged and possibly eerie reminder of a lost loved one.

Approximately 8,000 Facebook users die every day around the world, with the number of profiles belonging to deceased people estimated to be as high as 30 million[1], with that number growing every day.

Australia is currently without any legislation dealing with access to a deceased’s online accounts following their death. This means Executors and family members often have to trail through copious terms and conditions for each platform in order to establish what can or cannot be done with a deceased user’s account.

Most large companies will generally deny access to an account, citing privacy laws, unless it can be demonstrated that the deceased intended you to have access after they have died[2].

Facebook has recently made changes to its user policy permitting the appointment of a “legacy contact” who, upon the death of the account holder, may contact Facebook to be granted access to the deceased’s page. This allows the “legacy contact” to alert friends and family as to the death of the deceased and to download memorable photos or posts and to share funeral details.

Once notified of the death, Facebook will also add a “Remembering” tagline to the user’s profile. The memorialised profile can then become a digital shrine to the deceased, with friends posting special messages and acknowledging the anniversary of the deceased’s passing.

For Twitter, any person authorised to act on the behalf of the Estate of the deceased can contact Twitter to have an account deactivated. Immediate family members may wish to request that images or videos of the deceased be removed from the platform, which can be particularly important for certain cultures who do not wish to depict people who have passed away[3].

For Instagram and LinkedIn, the websites only allow for an immediate family member or the Estate administrator to request the deactivation and removal of the user profile.

Unless someone has your username and password for a social media account and manually shuts it down, or follows the processes provided by the individual platforms, your online accounts will presumably live on forever opening up your family to the possibility of damage from hackers or online scammers.

If you regularly use social media and hold a handful of accounts with various platforms, it may be worth including a digital asset clause in your Will which instructs your Executors as to what you would like done with your accounts following your death.  You may have a preference for all your accounts to be closed and removed immediately following your death or you may prefer the opportunity for memorialisation allowing people to view your profile and leave condolence messages as part of their grieving process.

Another online account that people often overlook in their Estate Planning is their email.  Often important documents that are essential to the Estate administration process are saved in a person’s private email inbox.  By providing for your log in details to be made available following your death, you can expedite this process for your Executors and beneficiaries. Google has a system called “Inactive Account Manager” whereby Google may be advised as to what you would want done in the event your Google accounts become inactive for any reason[4]. For example, you can change your settings to have your data and accounts erased after say six or 12 months of inactivity.

Social media accounts are highly personal and often contain private information.  Managing your digital assets in the event of your death is a key part of your estate plan. Should you wish to discuss any of the matters raised in this article, please contact our Wills, Estates and Succession Planning team on 03 5273 5273.

[1] http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-03-29/what-happens-to-your-social-media-accounts-when-you-die/7281832

[2] http://time.com/3706807/facebook-death-legacy/

[3] http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-03-29/what-happens-to-your-social-media-accounts-when-you-die/7281832

[4] https://publicpolicy.googleblog.com/2013/04/plan-your-digital-afterlife-with.html

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