When someone dies, along with grieving and taking care of funeral arrangements, there’s another task you need to tackle — managing their social media accounts.
“It’s not something the generation before us had to deal with,” says Liz Karansky, co-founder and chief strategy officer of Farewelling.
For some accounts, just close them
Social media encompasses a lot of different sites. Karansky says that for profiles that are mainly designed for the person using them — think Pinterest, Twitter, and LinkedIn — there’s generally no reason to keep the accounts open.
You can contact those companies and request that the accounts be closed or deactivated. Depending on the site, you’ll at least need proof of death and proof of your relationship to the person. Pinterest, Twitter and LinkedIn have verification processes to ensure the death reports aren’t false or unauthorized.
If you have the username and password of the person who has died, you can simply log in and close or deactivate the account yourself. If your loved one didn’t give you permission to do this, you may want to talk to a lawyer first — you could be in violation of the site’s terms of service.
“It’s new territory, and policies are constantly changing,” Karansky says. “In some states, laws allow executors to become account custodians.”
Other accounts are more complicated
For other accounts, particularly Facebook, you may not want to close the account. But you can’t just leave it untouched.
Alex Membrillo, CEO of Cardinal Digital Marketing, says, “It’s not uncommon to see social media accounts still active for people who have passed away. In fact, I recently received a birthday reminder on Facebook for someone who had passed away 10 years ago.” Those reminders can be painful for the people left behind.
On Facebook, you can convert your loved one’s page into a memorial page. When you do, Facebook adds the word “Remembering” before the person’s name, and turns off “people you may know” suggestions and birthday notifications. The content your loved one posted will stay there, and people can add thoughts and memories.
Instagram is similar to Facebook — accounts can be memorialized or deleted. For Google, you can submit a request to close an account. Make sure you think through all of the accounts under the Google umbrella — you might want to shut down a YouTube channel but still have access to Gmail, for example.
Death announcements via social media
Elizabeth Fournier runs Cornerstone Funeral Services, a one-woman funeral service in rural Boring, Oregon. She says many people now turn to Facebook instead of paying for obituaries. “Most of my grieving families see no need to shell out cash, since social media such as Facebook is free and has quite a far reach,” Fournier says.
You can use your loved one’s memorial page to notify people of the death, and to share details about the funeral or services.
Timing the announcement of a death on social media is sensitive, though, and is different for everyone. Close friends and family likely want to hear the news via word of mouth, so it’s important to connect with them in person or by phone.
But if you wait too long to share the news on social media, you run the risk that someone else will post about it. And most people want to post in time to allow more distant friends, colleagues and acquaintances to be able to attend the services if they choose.
Add social media to your own estate plan
Karansky says most people don’t make a plan for their post-death social media. “Older people don’t view it as a necessary thing, and younger people think they have time,” she says.
Make it easier for your loved ones to manage your social media after your death. List all of your social media accounts, and what you’d like done with them after your death, as part of your estate plan. “You can let people know what you want memorialized or deleted,” Karansky says.
In your Facebook account settings, there’s an option for Memorialization Settings where you can add a legacy contact who can manage your account after your death. That person can then manage tribute posts, respond to new friend requests, update your profile picture and cover photo, and request that your account be removed. They can’t post as you or see your messages.
“Adding a legacy contact to your account is the best way to ensure your own account is handled appropriately in the event that you die,” Membrillo says.
Be careful about what you share and see
You can also include usernames and passwords for your accounts — just keep in mind that sharing that information gives someone full access. Some people may have messages or other personal information they would prefer their loved ones don’t see after their death.
If you have access to your loved one’s private information, tread lightly.
Darrin Giglio, chief investigator at North American Investigations, cautions people against looking through a deceased person’s private messages or activity logs. “They might find information they’re better off without, such as content related to things like infidelity, or discreet habits such as gambling or drugs,” he says. “Don’t go snooping, because it could negatively impact the fond memory you have of a loved one.”
You can’t just ignore these accounts
Whatever you do with your loved one’s accounts, do something. You don’t want to leave the account open for too long without memorializing or deleting it. Accounts can be hacked and used for advertising, with deceased people “liking” pages. That might not seem like such a big deal, but it can be jolting for someone who is grieving to see activity linked with their loved one on social media.