Spring 2019 1

The Life of Social Media—Even After You Die

by A. Scott White, CFP ®, ChFC®, CLU®
President, Scott White Advisors

Many of us may be prepared for our death. We may have our financial and estate plans in place, and have assurance that our spouses and heirs will be cared for. We may have planned for a bequest to our favorite charity, or perhaps a major gift to our local community foundation after our demise. We may be comforted, knowing we’ve planned for our legacy.

But what about our digital legacy? What happens to our online presence after we’re gone? With the continued growth of social media—not to mention search engines—you may have a larger digital footprint when you’re alive than you realize. What will happen after you die? Let’s look at the major social media platforms.

Facebook will allow users to decide in advance whether they would like to have their account deleted permanently upon their death, or memorialized. If you would prefer to have your Facebook profile deleted and all content erased upon your death, do this: Start at Facebook Settings, choose General, choose Manage Account, choose Request Account Deletion.

When accounts are memorialized, ‘Remembering’ is shown next to the user’s name, signifying that person has passed away. Family members and friends can share stories, memories and photos. The account content is still visible on Facebook, but only to the friends the user originally shared the content with. For memorialized accounts, the user’s profile no longer is displayed on public Facebook sections such as birthday reminders or people you know.

Facebook users can select a legacy contact—someone who will look after the account once it becomes a memorial page. Legacy contacts can request removal of the account, respond to friend requests, and change profile and cover photos. But they can’t log into the deceased person’s account, read messages, or alter things the user has posted in
the past.

For Facebook users who die without choosing to have a memorialized or deleted account after their death, friends or loved ones can file a memorialization or delete request by completing the form found on the Facebook Help Center.

When a Twitter user dies, a verified family member or someone authorized to act on behalf of the deceased person’s estate can contact the Twitter Help Center to request account deactivation. After Twitter receives the deactivation request, they will require additional documentation, including a death certificate for the deceased person, before removing the account. Twitter will not allow anyone except the original user to post or change account information.

Instagram is owned by Facebook, and it follows policies similar to its parent company. But Instagram users cannot choose what happens to their account when they die. When an Instagram user dies, a request can be submitted to Instagram for memorialization, or immediate family members can submit a request for the account to be deleted.

When someone with a LinkedIn profile passes away, the only option is account deletion. LinkedIn asks that family members submit information to verify the death, including the member’s name and URL to their LinkedIn profile, the member’s email address, the date the individual passed away, and a link to an obituary.

Each social media platform follows its own procedures for handling accounts when users have died. In your legacy planning, you may want to leave instructions so your loved ones can handle your social media accounts according to your wishes.