Your Will

How to Close Social Networking Accounts After Death

What you need to know about managing social networking and other digital profiles after death, and the importance of making plans for your digital estate.

What you need to know about managing social networking and other digital profiles after death, and the importance of making plans for your digital estate.


Today was Helen’s birthday. Facebook suggested that her friends should send her a birthday message. Many had already posted their wishes.

“Happy birthday Helen! It seems like only yesterday we were celebrating your 21st!!! xoxox”.

“Happy birthday! We miss you xx”.

Some of Helen’s family found this quite difficult. It had been almost a year since Helen’s death. But her digital presence lived on.

Not everyone wants their online lives to outlive them, but many haven’t expressed their wishes as to what should occur with their digital assets after they are gone.

Locked behind passwords and secret questions and amongst an array of fine print, lie lives and memories of long-lost loved ones. Close family members or appointed executors may want to access, close or cherish the contents of such accounts.

The following information can assist.

How to Close Social Networking Accounts of the Deceased

Google has in place an Inactive Account Manager allowing users to request Google to contact them after a specified period of inactivity (between 3 to 12 months) and then upon no response will either share the contents with up to ten people or delete the account. If users haven’t set up their Inactive Account Manager, then upon their death the deceased’s legal personal representative (‘LPR’) can apply for and may be granted access to the deceased’s Google accounts in “rare” cases. 

To do so, the LPR must provide a copy of his or her government-authorised identification, the deceased’s death certificate and an email to them sent from the deceased’s Google account. Google indicate they may also require a court order to proceed.

Facebook provides the choice of having a deceased’s user’s account ‘memorialised’ or deleted. To memorialise the account an online form needs to be filled out and proof of death needs to be provided. In order for the account to be deleted Facebook requires verification from an immediate family member or LPR.

When users sign up to Apple products (iTunes, Mac App and App stores and iBooks) they are obtaining a licence. Apple’s Terms of Agreement specify that users ‘may not rent, lease, lend, sell, transfer redistribute, or sublicense’ their products and that such use is ‘limited to a non-transferable licence’. Apple support staff can be contacted and will try to assist where possible (and have in fact offered ‘complete cancellation or a take over by a family member’ – the latter seemingly contrary to the Terms of Agreement …). Apple will require a copy of the deceased’s death certificate and a legal document confirming the LPR’s right to deal with the deceased’s property before proceeding.

Microsoft (which includes Hotmail, Live and MSN accounts) will provide a data disc of the contents of the deceased’s account upon receipt of a death certificate; proof that the requesting person is the LPR, next of kin or beneficiary; copy of government-issued identification and various details about the deceased’s account.  Microsoft will not transfer ownership or provide password details.

Yahoo will deactivate accounts after no access for twelve months. According to Yahoo’s Terms of Service, Yahoo accounts and content (passwords or emails) are not transferable even if the owner is deceased. Upon receipt of a letter of request from the deceased’s LPR, plus a copy of the deceased’s Will or legal documentation authorising them to act and death certificate, the account can be closed.

PayPal requires the LPR to send a cover letter stating their request and enclosing a copy of the user’s death certificate, Will or legal documentation verifying the LPR, as well as photo identification of the LPR. If approved, the account will be closed and the funds paid via cheque made out in the deceased’s name.

LinkedIn requires the person advising them of a user’s death to fill out and electronically sign an online form. They must provide details regarding the deceased user’s name, recent employment, their relationship to the deceased and must include a link to the deceased’s profile.

Twitter requires the deceased’s username, copies of the deceased’s death certificate and the LPR’s or next of kin’s government-issued identification, as well as a signed statement from the LPR or next of kin providing information about themselves and the deceased’s account.

To close a deceased’s Amazon Associates account, Amazon will require the deceased user’s Amazon Associates ID, primary email, payee name and mailing address, as well as a court-issued legal document showing the LPR’s authority or a death certificate.

WordPress requires the next of kin or LPR to complete an ‘Account Recovery Form’ including the deceased’s username and email (if known), the URL of the deceased person’s blog, the requesting party’s email address and a brief note explaining the circumstances and requesting that the account be marked as private or claimed for continued use. WordPress will then contact the requesting party and ask them to provide documentation and/or further information.

Privacy is taken very seriously with such services so hurdles are deliberately set up to ensure that only those people with the proper authority and in the correct circumstances can access and make requests regarding a deceased’s digital accounts.

But people can think ahead and determine themselves what they would like to occur upon their passing. This, contrary to the information above, is not difficult. Whether you choose to only express your wishes or, in addition, provide details for future access, dealing now with your digital demise or eternal online presence can ease the ache for those that matter.

 

 

For advice about your Will or Estate issue, contact your nearest Tindall Gask Bentley office. You can also start your Will online here.