In today’s digital age, over 80% of Australians own a social media account. These platforms have become popular tools to stay connected in our personal and professional lives. But what happens to these accounts when we die? Is there a social media afterlife? And who takes control when we can’t? These questions are now an important consideration in modern estate planning and the answers vary greatly depending on the app in question and their policies.
Facebook allows users to appoint what is called a ‘Legacy Contact’ under their memorialisation settings during their lifetime. Once proof of death has been provided to Facebook, the Legacy Contact is able to post a final message on the deceased’s profile before the account is ‘memorialised’, allowing friends and family to post messages of remembrance and sympathy. The Legacy Contact can manage posts, profile pictures and friends.
Where a user does not wish to appoint a Legacy Contact, they can opt to have their account permanently deleted upon notification of their death. Where neither of these options are selected by the user during their lifetime, the account is automatically memorialised once Facebook is made aware of your passing; your executor does not assume special rights over your account following your death.
Similarly to Facebook, Instagram allows a user’s account to be memorialised where the app has received notification and evidence of the user’s death. In the world of Instagram, anyone can notify the app that a user has died and there is no specific appointment of a controller in the app. It is important to note that the deceased’s executor and legal personal representative will not automatically assume full rights over the deceased’s account.
Once memorialised, the user’s existing photos will remain visible and the word ‘Remembering’ will be displayed next to the user’s name. Whilst posts of the deceased user will remain shared on the app with the people they were originally shared with, they will not appear in public searches. The request to remove the Instagram account can only be made by the Executor or administrator of the deceased’s estate.
Twitter, on the other hand, provides authority to the user’s executor or their next of kin, to request that the account be deactivated. Once deactivated, no one can access the account.
LinkedIn will remove a profile once notification and satisfactory evidence of the user’s death has been provided. Until such time, the user’s profile will remain active despite any period of inactivity.
Most email servers will allow users to set up an ’Inactive Account Manager’ to delete their account after a period of inactivity.
If you want to control what happens to your social media presence after your death, you will need to spend time considering how your online accounts and identities will be managed after you die. You do have the option of sharing your passwords with someone you trust to follow your wishes, if you understand the cyber security implications of doing so. Having a digital register to sit alongside your Will is a helpful resource for your loved ones to navigate your digital profile after your death.
Incorporating your digital footprint into the planning process can prevent identity theft, save records and protect family and friends from automated reminders when you’re gone which can be upsetting.