What Happens to Your Online Accounts When You Die?
Close-up of eyeball with Facebook reflection - Chris Jackson/Getty Images News/Getty Images
Chris Jackson/Getty Images News/Getty Images
As more people continue to jump on the latest social networking site or app to share their lives and interests with friends, dealing with the grim task of figuring out what to do with all the online accounts and social profiles of a deceased loved one is becoming more of a common situation that families are needing to face these days.
If a deceased user kept their login and password credentials completely private, then getting into any of their online accounts to obtain information or delete the account can be a tricky process for family members.
When ignored, these online accounts -- particularly the user's social media profiles -- tend to remain active online well after the user's death.
To tackle this growing trend, a lot of major websites and social networks that collect user information have implemented policies for those that need to take care of a deceased user's account.
Here's a brief look at how a few of the web's biggest user-driven platforms suggest getting in contact with them so you can gain control of a deceased loved one's account or have shut it down completely.
Reporting a Deceased Person on Facebook
On Facebook, you have two standard options when dealing with a deceased user's account, plus a new legacy contact option that was recently introduced.
First, you can choose to turn the user's account into a memorial page. Facebook basically leaves the user profile as it is, but prevents the memorialized page from being referenced on Facebook as an active user. Facebook will also take extra measures to secure the account in order to protect the privacy of the deceased user.
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To have a user's account memorialized, a friend or family member must fill out and submit a Memorialization Request. You must provide proof of the user's death, such as a link to an obituary or news article, so that Facebook can investigate and then approve the request.
The other option you have is to ask Facebook to close the account of the deceased user. Facebook will only accept this request from immediate family members, asking them to fill out a Special Request for Deceased Person's Account.
Facebook's New Legacy Contact Feature
Facebook recently introduced another feature to help manage memorialized profiles, called legacy contacts. Users can select a family member or friend on Facebook as their legacy contact, which gives them access to their profile when they die.
After a Memorialization Request has been made, Facebook will then allow the legacy contact to help manage the profile after the user has passed, giving them the ability to make a memorial post at the top of the deceased user's profile, update photos, respond to friend requests and even download an archive of their information. The legacy contact will be able to manage all of these options from their own account, and will not be required to sign in to the deceased user's account.
To choose a legacy contact, you must access your settings and under the Security tab, click or tap the "Legacy Contact" option that appears at the bottom. If you don't want to have a legacy contact at all, you can alternatively let Facebook know that you want your profile to be permanently deleted after you've passed away.
Accessing a Deceased Person's Google or Gmail Account
Google says that in rare cases, it may be able to provide to the contents of a Google account or Gmail account to an "authorized representative" of the deceased user. While there's no guarantee that you may gain access to the account, Google ensures that it will carefully review all applications for this type of request.
You need to fax or mail a list of required documentation to Google, including a copy of the death certificate of the deceased user for valid proof. Upon review, Google will then get in touch with you by email to let you know if the decision has been made in order to move on to the next step in the process.
In April of 2013, Google introduced Inactive Account Manager to help users plan their "digital afterlives," which anyone can use to tell Google what they want done with all their digital assets after they've been inactive for a specific period of time. You can find out more about Google's Inactive Account Manager here.
Contacting Twitter About a Deceased User
Twitter clearly states that it will not give you access to a deceased user's account regardless of your relationship to the user, but it will accept requests to deactivate the user's account from either an immediate family member or a person authorized to act on the behalf of the estate.
To do this, Twitter needs you to provide the deceased person's username, a copy of their death certificate, a copy of your government-issued ID and a signed statement with a list of additionally required information, which you can find at this Twitter support link.
To complete the request, you must send the documentation either by fax or mail so that Twitter can verify it and deactivate the account.
Deactivating a Deceased User's Pinterest Account
Pinterest will not hand over login information of deceased user, but it will deactivate the user's account if you send over an email with a list of required information, including proof of the user's death.
You must provide a copy of the user's death certificate, an obituary or a link to a new article as valid proof for Pinterest to deactivate the deceased user's account.
Contacting Instagram About a Deceased User
In its privacy statement, Instagram asks you to get in contact with the company about a deceased user. Communication will take place via email while working to remove the account.
Similar to Facebook, you must fill out a form request to report a deceased person's account on Instagram, and provide proof of death, such as a death certificate or obituary.
Options Available When a Yahoo Account Owner Passes Away
Although Google may grant access to the contents of a deceased user's account in some instances, Yahoo, on the other hand, will not.
If you need to contact Yahoo about a deceased user's account, you can do so by mail, fax or email including a request letter, the Yahoo ID of the deceased user, proof that you have been authorized to act as the personal representative of the deceased and a copy of the death certificate.
Closing the PayPal Account of a Relative
To close the PayPal account of a relative, PayPal asks the estate executor to send a list of required information over by fax, including a cover letter for the request, a copy of the death certificate, a copy of the deceased user's legal documentation proving that the person making the request is authorized to act on behalf of them and a copy of photo identification of the estate executor.
If approved, PayPal will close the account and issue a check in the account holder's name if any funds have been left in the account.
Taking Care of Your Digital Legacy
Planning ahead for how your digital assets are handled after you're gone has become just as important as all your other assets.
For more information and tips on what you should do to think ahead about your online accounts, check out the About.com Death & Dying Expert's article on How to Take Care of Your Digital Legacy.