It’s extremely morbid. But we’ve all pondered the question: what happens when we die? Whether you feel confident in the answer or believe that no one knows for sure, one thing is certain – planning for both the unexpected and the inevitable is important.
If these kinds of topics are ones you’d rather not think about, consider the conversation in the context of your loved ones. Planning ahead now will save them a lot of stress and additional grief should anything happen to you. (For related reading, see: 4 Essential Estate Planning Documents for Everyone.)
This includes social media. Instead of leaving it up to your surviving friends and family to figure out how to handle your Snapchat account, make that plan now. As silly, weird or downright dark as it sounds, when it comes to living and dying today, that conversation has to include your social media accounts.
Why Your Estate Plan Should Include Social Media
Traditionally, estate planning referred to the process of creating legally binding documents that gave ownership of your assets to specific people you named. It includes designating beneficiaries of wealth or material goods, property and even guardians for any minors currently in your care.
Without an estate plan in place, probate court gets to decide what happens to your possessions and even who gets custody of your children. This is why it’s critical to plan ahead and make your wishes known while you have the power to make that decision yourself to protect your assets and your loved ones.
Today, your assets go far beyond the money you have in the bank or the property you own. Your online presence is an asset as we increasingly live more and more of our lives online. According to the Pew Research Center, approximately 65% Americans over the age of 18 have an account profile on social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat. Those numbers are increasing by the day.
And although Facebook is usually not a life or death conversation, it’s important to ask: what does happen to your social media if you pass away? What happens to your email account? Do those accounts just automatically deactivate? Are all of our memories lost in the abyss of cyberspace forever? Who takes control of that and what can they do with it? (For related reading, see: Digital Assets: The Hidden Part of Your Estate.)
What Happens to Your Social Media Accounts and Email?
The short answer to the above questions is, no, your accounts will not automatically deactivate. Your content is not immediately lost to the depths of the Internet.
But what about taking ownership of your social media accounts? Nearly every social media platform and website has a specific policy for dealing with the accounts of a deceased individual. It’s not an easy process to transfer the accounts but with proper planning, you can take control of what happens to these assets should you pass away. This is your high-level view of what happens to social media accounts when you die, and there are a few steps you can take to limit the burden on your loved ones.
What Happens to Your Facebook Account When You Die
You can actually let Facebook know in advance what you would like done with your account should anything happen to you. Here are your options for handling your assets on this network.
You can choose to have a memorialized account. This is a profile that remains active on Facebook. All the content you shared with others remains accessible too. This isn’t the same as the Facebook account you use now. Memorialized accounts do not appear in suggestions for “People You May Know” or “Birthday Reminders.” Facebook will also add “Remembering” next to your profile name. Depending on the privacy settings, friends may or may not be able to share memories on your timeline. (For more, see: Estate Planning for Beginners, Part One.)
You can also request that Facebook delete your profile when you die. Just be aware that once the account is deleted, there’s no way to reactivate the account or retrieve anything that was added while the account was open. You need to designate a person of authority in your estate plan in case they need to make requests or changes to your account after you pass away. This should be the same person who can submit a death certificate or other documentation as required to Facebook.
How to Create a Plan for Twitter
In the same way that Facebook allows an account to be deleted after the passing of a loved one, Twitter administrators can permanently delete an account. But Twitter will also provide a backup of the deceased owner’s public tweets to an authorized individual. You’ll need to designate the authorized person in your estate plan so they can access this data. Like Facebook, there is a form to fill out that requires a death certificate or link to an obituary, as well as documentation that shows the surviving members relationship to the deceased and proof to act on their behalf.
More and more social media networks are providing ways for people to plan ahead so you can retain the control you want over your accounts even after death. Make sure you take advantage. Reach out to a network’s support team or search their FAQ to find specifics on their process for handling accounts of deceased users. Then include the necessary information in your personal estate plan.
What Happens to Your Information on Google and Gmail?
Google is widely known for protecting users' information, so it should come as no surprise that accessing the account of a deceased individual will have a few challenges. If you have a Google mail (Gmail) account and you pass away, your account will stay active forever unless your next of kin or the administrator of your estate request that it be deleted. (For more, see: Estate Planning for Beginners, Part Two.)
To gain access to the email account, your authorized party will need to supply a few pieces of information. That includes the name, contact information and a verifiable email address for the authorized individual. They will also have to supply your Gmail address, along with an email containing the full headers of an email message that was sent from the deceased individual to the authorized person. This, of course, is in addition to filling out an extensive social media form and providing proof of death.
How You Can Limit the Burden on Your Loved Ones
Depending on how active you are on social media, you may have dozens of different online profiles. One option that could relieve the burden on your loved ones is to use an online company that can store your online information, like LastPass, and release it to authorized individuals should you pass away.
If online security is an issue or you’d just prefer to keep things simple, you could always create your own list of important information, encrypt it, and provide the decryption code to an individual that you trust. This avoids having to pay a fee for a third party to store your important information.
Social media accounts are a part of life now, because we share and communicate so much through these platforms. They’re valuable, and any planning should include steps to protect social media and email.
A lot can happen to your social media and email accounts when you die. But by acting now and putting a plan in place, you can be confident that your wishes will be carried out with no additional burden placed on your loved ones. (For more, see: 3 Simple Steps to Begin Estate Planning.)