What happens to your social media accounts when you die?

Evan Carroll, a digital legacy expert and co-founder of The Digital Beyond investigates your digital graveyard, explaining what happens to your Facebook, Twitter and YouTube accounts after death.

What Happens to Social Media Accounts After Death

Where are my digital assets stored?

Almost without realising it, we've shifted to an all-digital culture. Our letters are now emails, our photos and videos are digital, and our bills are paid electronically. Coupled with our social media habits, this means that increasingly vast collections of valuable electronic data called ‘digital assets’ are leaving a significant digital footprint.

In the past, most of our digital information was stored on a computer or device. However, most of our digital assets are now stored in 'The Cloud', using various email, social media and file storage services. Today an individual can have digital assets on numerous computer systems that they do not own, and therefore the digital assets are not physically located with their estate.

Realising the sentimental and perhaps cultural importance of this information, along with its fragile and distributed nature, solicitors, entrepreneurs and legislators have been working to solve the question of what happens to our digital assets once we've passed away.

With many of our digital assets stored by various service providers, a common question is what might happen to each of them when we die. With that in mind, here are the answers for some common providers.

What happens to my Facebook page when I die?

Recently, researchers at the Oxford Internet Institute (OII) discovered that the number of deceased people on Facebook could reach 4.9 billion by the end of the century. So, what will happen to these profiles? Well, Facebook does allow for the removal or memorialisation of an account, with the latter showing the word ‘Remembering’ next to the person's name on their profile. A memorialised account's username and password will no longer work, however the profile is maintained with the existing privacy settings in place. Facebook also offers legacy contacts so you can designate someone to manage your Facebook account after you die.

What happens to my Twitter account when I die?

Twitter will either allow a profile to remain online or remove it at the request of a family member. Removal of an account requires a request form, as well as the death certificate, proof of your identification, proof of your relationship to the deceased, and, in some cases, proof the Twitter account belonged to the deceased.

What happens to my YouTube account when I die?

Most YouTube accounts need to be associated with an account on Google. In the event of a death, Google will not provide passwords or login details to deceased users’ accounts. They do, however, allow family members to request the removal of an account and, in some situations, may provide some data from an account. Google also has a tool called the Inactive Account Manager, which allows users to specify who should gain access, if anyone, to their data when their account becomes inactive.

How should I protect my digital assets before death?

With significant differences in policy, and some providers even lacking any formal policy, the best course of action for any individual is to plan in advance. By incorporating your digital assets into your estate plans, you can ensure the representative of your estate will have access to your accounts and can carry out any wishes you have.

Your first step should be to take an inventory of your online accounts. This shouldn’t just be your email and social media accounts - ensure the likes of file sharing, backups and payment services are taken care of too.

Next you should consider what you would like to happen to each account. Perhaps one contains photos you'd like your family to have? Maybe another contains messages you'd prefer not to share?

Finally, determine the best way to communicate your accounts and wishes to your family. In some cases, you may want to provide a family member with your passwords. In other situations, you may wish to create a document and store it in a safe place. If you want a more secure method, you might consider one of the many online vault services that can store your information until your passing.

Who should I speak to?

You should also consult your solicitor and explore options to include instructions regarding your digital assets in your will or other estate planning documents. However, be careful not to list your usernames, passwords and login details in your will.

But most of all, make sure you have a quick conversation with a loved one. Even taking a small step of preparation can help your family immensely in the event of death.

Despite all that's changed as we've adopted new digital lives, one thing remains constant - our desires to leave lasting memories and mementos to our families when we're gone. By understanding the policies and preparing ahead of time, we can ensure our digital legacies aren't lost for future generations.

About the author

Evan Carroll is an author and speaker and user experience strategist who works to make technology more human. A leader in the developing digital legacy and personal archiving arena, Evan is author and co-founder at The Digital Beyond and co-author of the book, Your Digital Afterlife: When Facebook, Flickr and Twitter Are Your Estate, What's Your Legacy? Evan has also appeared in numerous media outlets including The New York Times, NPR's Fresh AirObit magazine, NPR's Here and Now, Fox News, CNN and The Atlantic. You can follow Evan on Twitter (@evancarroll).

See also

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Find out more

What will happen to my Facebook account if I pass away? (Facebook)

How to contact Twitter about a deceased family member's account (Twitter)

Submit a request regarding a deceased user's account (Google)

Image: Getty Images