Most digital accounts don’t offer proactive features for managing your account before you pass away. Generally, a loved one will need to submit documentation to prove you have died and that they have authority to act on your behalf. Then your account will be deactivated or deleted, depending on the site’s terms of service. Sites generally do not give even authorized third parties the deceased user’s login credentials.
Estate planning attorneys say the best thing consumers can do to protect their assets is comprehensive estate planning. “If you don’t do any planning, then nobody will have easy access to anything and they won’t know what to do,” says Marina Modlin, an estate planning attorney from San Jose, Calif. “Everything is much harder and much more expensive without estate planning because it takes months if not years to get things done.”
If that seems out of your budget. Modlin says you should at least complete beneficiary election paperwork for all of your financial accounts, so that you have something in writing. You should also give your assigned beneficiary a list of all of your accounts at every institution; don’t include the login credentials. Experts agree you should also make a list of your social media accounts.
Facebook may have changed the way we think about our digital accounts after someone dies. On Feb. 12, Facebook unveiled its legacy contact feature, which allows you to choose someone you trust (age 18 or older) to look after your account after you die.
Depending on your preferences, when legacy contact informs Facebook of your passing, your account will be either permanently deleted or memorialized. Memorialized accounts display the word Remembering next to the person’s name on their profile. These accounts don’t appear in public spaces, so nobody will receive inappropriate People You May Know notices or birthday reminders. If an account is memorialized, the legacy contact will be able to write a pinned post on the profile, respond to new friend requests and update the profile picture and cover photo. The contact can also download a memento copy of everything the deceased ever shared on Facebook.
To add a legacy contact, go to your Facebook Settings > Security > Legacy Contact, type in a Facebook friend’s name and click Add. Click Message to inform your friend that they’re now your legacy contact and that your account will be memorialized by default. Officially, they’ll receive this message from you:
Hi NAME, Facebook now lets people choose a legacy contact to manage their account if something happens to them. Since you know me well and I trust you, I chose you. Please let me know if you want to talk about this.
You can also use the Legacy feature to have your account deleted when you pass away. Go to Settings > Security > Legacy Contact, and click on “have your account permanently deleted”and follow the on-screen prompts.
Flickr is owned by Yahoo!, so it follows the search engine’s terms of service, which include a No Right of Survivorship and Non-Transferability clause. This means that Yahoo! will permanently delete all of your account information and contents when it receives a copy of your death certificate. Make sure you back up your photos and important emails regularly.
Google is another provider that lets you be proactive with your accounts for everything from Gmail to Calendar to YouTube. Just set up your Google Inactive Account Manager, which allows you to specify what happens to your data after your account’s been inactive for an extended period of time (in three-month increments). You can choose for it to be deleted or shared with a trusted family member (with a self-drafted email informing them that you’re sharing it, which Google sends once the inactive period is complete).
If you need to contact Google regarding a deceased user’s account for someone who didn’t enable the Inactive Account Manager, use Google’s online form. In general, you can close the account, resolve a potential hijacking of their account or request funds from their account (think Google Wallet).
Submit a request to remove an Instagram account here. You’ll need to attach records verifying the owner’s death such as a death certificate, obituary or news article. You may also have the account memorialized.
Pinners can deactivate a deceased person’s account by emailing Pinterest at email@example.com with their full name, the full name and email address of the deceased’s account, a link to the deceased’s Pinterest account (you can find it at http://pinterest.com/all/), a way to verify their relationship to the deceased (such as a listing in the obituary or notarized proof of relation) and documentation of their death (such as an obituary, news article or death certificate).
Twitter will deactivate a deceased person’s account once it receives a snail-mail copy of the death certificate, your driver’s license and other documentation. There’s a page with instructions and a mailing address. Additionally, Twitter will remove all inappropriate images and videos of the deceased relating to their death (such as footage of critical injuries or photos taken moments before death); you may email firstname.lastname@example.org to request that the images be removed. Keep in mind that Twitter considers the newsworthiness of the content and may not honor every request.
[sad woman with smartphone via Shutterstock]