Your digital legacy – What happens to your online accounts when you pass away?

We live a lot of our life plugged into the internet. Without much thought to the consequences, we sign up to online accounts and then post and share our details.

Our social media accounts become an archive of our pictures, videos, opinions, events we have enjoyed and your everyday comments on the world. What happens to this digital legacy when we die? What should you do with the social media accounts of those close to you that have passed away?

Here we offer a guide to the policies presented by the social media platforms and your digital legacy. With this information, you can begin to have the conversations that will help to define what happens to your online presence when you die.

Facebook

Of all the social media platforms, Facebook has put most thought into what happens to our digital legacy when we die. It has been around the longest and is perhaps the most personal record of our day to day life online; consequently, it has had to develop a comprehensive policy.

Your first option is to have the page memorialised. By choosing to memorialise your profile, you will be freezing it in place like it is at that time. The photos, videos, posts and more will be available for friends and family to browse – and maybe offer some connection and comfort at a time of loss.

In terms of security, memorialising a page also means that no can log into the account and change the settings in the future. It is essential to protect your identity from misuse by strangers – as well as the personal details you might hold of your community.

You can select your wishes under the settings menu. You will nominate a contact person who will inform Facebook of your death and who will be given some access to the account. This access is limited to accepted new friends who may wish to stay connected to you at this time or who would like to post a message of condolence with your name tagged within it. The nominated person can also change the cover photograph and post a message at the top of the page. Once these changes are made, they will remain forever. To gain this access, your nominated person will need to submit a digital copy of your death certificate. A close relative can do this for you even if you have not chosen them.

If you do not want your profile memorialised, you can set your account to be permanently deleted in the event of your death.

Twitter

Twitter does not offer a memorial account. The terms and conditions of this social media platform are clear that no other person will be allowed access to the account for any purpose. Therefore, if you want someone to manage the account in the event of your death, you are going to have to leave behind the details of the username and password. It is probably best to leave clear instructions in a will what you would hope would happen, to guide them in how to use these login details.

Your account will remain active for about six months when it is likely to disappear due to inactivity. If you want the account deleted immediately, your executor will need to submit a digital death certificate to the platform.

LinkedIn

As with Twitter, LinkedIn does not allow the memorialising of pages. However, if your death is not reported, your profile will then remain online forever. If a connection says that they have come across a profile of someone who has died, they are apologetic for the upset that this might cause you. They will then work to remove the profile.

The policy for LinkedIn is relatively black or white. If you say nothing, the profile remains. If you inform the platform of the death via the Help Centre, you will be able to request the profile be removed.

Instagram

Instagram acts as an online photo album and video archive for our life. Therefore, it could become a place of solace for those experiencing loss. It could also be so personal that you would not want it to live beyond your lifetime.

Fortunately, as Facebook owns Instagram, the platform allows for a memorialised profile. The rules surrounding this are similar to the policy offered by Facebook. An added extra, to provide some further comfort, is that any linking to the profile is monitored to prevent unnecessary upset to friends and family.