Settling the estate of a deceased family member has long been a taxing and emotional process. Among other things, we have personal possessions to sort through, probate court to visit, assets to distribute, and agencies to notify.
As our lives become more and more connected online, we increasingly need to also consider what to do with the digital estate, the online accounts of our dearly departed, many of which hold photos and personal memories, as well as sensitive financial information.
“Most people know it’s something they should think about, but not a lot of people actually have a plan in place that specifies how they want their digital assets handled,” says Alison Besunder, principal attorney of Arden Besunder, a New York law firm that focuses on estate planning and intellectual property.
People who have created a digital will—which can denote anything from whether a Facebook account should be deleted or memorialized, to how to download photos from a cloud service—make the process much easier for executors.
Alas, a majority of people who die today haven’t set up a digital will or anything like it.
“Many people do nothing with a decedent’s online accounts because they don’t know where to begin,” Besunder says. But inaction can be problematic. Accounts left dormant are susceptible to fraud, she says, because no one is necessarily monitoring them for suspicious activity.
Many social-media companies and email providers have services to help executors settle a decedent’s digital estate, and some have services to help users prepare for their own death. Here’s an overview of services some of the top providers offer to deal with death—and how to use them.
Amazon does not appear to have an automated process to close a deceased user’s account. Read more about its account closure policies.
To close a deceased user’s Apple ID, contact Apple Support. You will be required to provide the user’s Apple ID, email address, and death certificate.
To permanently close a deceased person’s account, you must submit a special request. You’ll need the deceased person’s birth certificate, death certificate, and proof of authority under local law that you are the representative of the deceased person or their estate.
The form includes an option to memorialize the account. In a memorialized Facebook account, the content they shared will remain visible according to their privacy settings, and friends can continue to share memories after the person has passed away. Living individuals can proactively appoint a legacy contact to manage their account once they’re no longer able to.
To submit a request to close a deceased user’s Google account, fill out this form. You’ll need to verify whether you’re a relative or legal representative, and present the deceased’s death certificate and additional documents that may be helpful. Google will not provide anyone with passwords or other log-in details, regardless of their relation to the user.
Google users preparing for their own death can use its Inactive Account Manager feature to share parts of their account data, appoint a trusted contact, and notify someone if their account has been inactive for a certain period of time.
Instagram, owned by Facebook, provides two options for a deceased user’s account: Remove it, or memorialize it. Verified immediate family members may request the removal (read: closing) of the account. You’ll need to submit proof that you’re an immediate family member, along with the deceased’s birth and death certificates.
To memorialize the account, complete this form, which requires the same information as removing an account. When an Instagram account is memorialized, no one is allowed to log in, but the posts that the deceased shared are visible, according to the deceased’s privacy settings, and the account won’t appear in public spaces, such as Instagram’s Explore section.
Complete this form to request the closing of a deceased LinkedIn user’s profile. You’ll need to submit information that includes your loved one’s LinkedIn profile URL, the date of death, a link to an obituary, the company at which he or she most recently worked, email addresses associated with the account, and any other attachments or information that may be helpful to process the report.
Snap does not currently offer any way to close a decedent’s account.
To request the closing of a deceased person’s Twitter account, start here. Twitter will email you with instructions to provide more details, including information about the deceased, a copy of your ID, and a copy of the deceased’s death certificate.
In closing accounts of deceased account holders, Twitter will work with only verified immediate family members or those authorized to act on behalf of the estate. The company says it will not grant anyone account access, regardless of their relationship to the deceased.
To process the closure of a Yahoo account, the company requires that you mail a letter containing the deceased user’s Yahoo ID, a copy of a document appointing you as the personal representative or executor of the estate, and a copy of the deceased’s death certificate. Mail this information to:
Concierge Executive Escalations
5250 NE Elam Young Parkway
Hillsboro, OR 07124
Yahoo owns Flickr and Tumblr, though it’s unclear whether those sites have different policies.