Do you want your social media accounts deleted after you die, or left as a place for friends and family to remember you?
In the past, after you died you left behind things like cash, bank accounts, property and possessions. But now we also have to think about digital assets, such as social media and online accounts, emails, documents and even MP3 music.
Some people are starting to ask what should happen to digital assets, especially social media accounts, when someone passes away.
It is possible to delete a social media profile completely, but you’ll need to be able to access the account to begin with. If you don’t know a loved one’s username and password that means you have to contact Facebook or Twitter directly and ask them to take it down. Often they will ask for copies of the Death Certificate.
But Dr Stacey Pitsillides, who is researching ‘digital death’, thinks that deleting someone’s social media after they die isn’t necessarily right for everyone.
“Essentially, when you delete an account, you’re removing that from a really wide group of people, some who might feel very close to that person but might be physically distant and unable to attend a funeral,” she told Kieran Yates on BBC Radio Asian Network.
“It’s about the idea of memories and the way that we talk to people, and the way that we can be really close to our family now, even though they’re on the other side of the world,” she added.
In the same way social media connects people in life, so it can be used to connect people with loved ones who have died, says Dr Pitsillides.
“If someone has had a Facebook account for many years that could be many, many thousands of contributions,” says Peregrine Andrews in ‘Your Digital Life, Your Digital Death’ by Dr Pitsillides. “And yes if that account is not deleted in death then all of those little moments will continue to exist.”
Major social networks like Facebook have started to think about this and have added a memorial feature. The profile isn’t deleted, but closed off in certain ways. People can still view photos and leave messages, but new content can’t be added. It effectively becomes an online memorial where people can pay their respects.
There’s also lots of online memorial websites where you can set up a page for a loved one. Some are available for free, others are paid, and some are offered through funeral directors. It’s another way for friends and family to honour someone special online, as well as offline.
Making plans for your digital assets
What do you want to happen to your social media when you’re gone? Would you want your accounts to be deleted forever, or left for loved ones to visit when they miss you?
If you’ve got any particular preferences, make a note and let your loved ones know what you’d prefer. You can also use Facebook’s Legacy Contact feature to nominate someone who can manage your memorial page after you die. Google has a similar feature, called an account trustee, or inactive account manager.
You might also want to securely store all your passwords in one place, for example with a program like KeePass. This can help your loved ones access your accounts when the time comes.
About the author
With a Masters from the University of Bristol, Jessica Hanson has worked in the funeral sector for several years, following the latest industry trends and writing about end of life planning. Jessica has previously written as a blogger for the Huffington Post, covering topics such as death positivity, understanding grief and how funerals are changing. You can find Jessica on LinkedIn and Twitter.