There are many unanswered questions in life and many revolving around death. What happens after someone passes away? Will they be reincarnated? Is there a heaven and eternal bliss? But we can all agree that death is inevitable and final.

However, while you may physically die and no longer exist in the real world, your digital presence will survive, especially if you have been extremely active on the numerous social media platforms that are out there. From Facebook memories and Instagram selfies to blog posts and tweets, your digital presence remains long after you’ve kicked the proverbial bucket.

So, the question is: what happens to your social media profiles after you’ve died? Or, more importantly, what would you like to happen to your social media profiles once you’ve passed on?

Digital Estate Plans
Well, it is recommended that you draw up a digital estate plan. Much like drawing up a will, this will legally dictate who has access to your social media accounts and what you wish for your digital presence or content (this can range from digital assets (email, photos, website domain, blog, genealogy records) to other various digital data (laptop password, cell phone pin, password manager login, for example).

According to one of LAW FOR ALL’s Estates Mediators, Zander Capes, a person’s last will in the past traditionally provided for the financial distribution of a person’s belongings, after their death, and many peoples wills are outdated in today’s world where more and more people access the internet and open social media accounts. “There is certainly room for development. Unfortunately, when drafting wills, most of us do not consider the consequences of remaining silent regarding our social media accounts, which could cause many difficulties to a person’s family, friends and descendants in making the right decisions regarding the social media profile of the deceased,” warns Capes.

Most social media platforms do have policies in place when it comes to the profiles of users who have passed away, but they all rely on someone notifying the social platform that you are deceased. This makes having a digital estate plan all the more important so that you can designate that responsibility to someone you love and trust and make their lives a little easier by giving them all the info they need about your account. We’ll look at the most popular sites as examples:

As mentioned above, Facebook offers users the option to turn their page into a ‘Memorial’ page or delete it permanently.  Memorial pages, which will display the word ‘Remembering’ on the profile, are only accessible and searchable to friends, who can still post and look at pictures. The profile won’t trigger birthday reminders, nor will it appear in “People You May Know” prompts. You can also set a legacy contact, meaning you can assign someone to manage your account after you pass away. They’ll have the ability pin a post on your Timeline, respond to new friend requests, and update your profile picture. They won’t be able to post as you or see your messages.

Because Facebook owns Instagram, its policy is relatively similar.  Accounts can be memorialised or removed, but there’s no way for you to choose one of these options before you die. The onus is on the person who reports your death to Instagram.

Unlike Facebook and Instagram, Twitter doesn’t have an inherent mechanism to address the death of a user; however, it does allow certified family members or estate executors to work with the company to deactivate the account in question.  Twitter will also remove imagery of deceased individuals in certain circumstances upon the request of authorised individuals.

YouTube’s parent company, Google, offers an Inactive Account Manager option. This lets you choose a trusted friend or family who will be given access to your data when your account has been inactive for a specified period.

If you don’t have this feature in place, authorised individuals can request information from your account or permanently close it.

It’s important to keep your loved ones in mind and make sure your estate and will is updated and includes all the necessary information for your digital presence to be taken care of.

If you need assistance with drawing up a Will, get in touch with LAW FOR ALL for expert legal advice:

t: (021) 521 2000  f: (021) 521 2100