My segment on today’s episode of The Son Rise Morning Show with Brian Patrick brought up a rather grim topic: how to handle the “digital footprint” we leave when we die. For my research, I went to an able group of experts — my Facebook friends. With their help and a bit of digging, it became clear that there is much more to consider in today’s super-wired society than just how to handle a dead loved one’s Facebook account. But let’s start there…
Although perhaps not the most pressing of issues when a loved one dies, their continued presence on social media sites can be either a blessing or an added source of grief for their family and friends. Facebook offers the opportunity for families to “memorialize” a deceased member’s profile, or to delete the account altogether. You’ll need to ponder which you prefer. A “memorialized account” enables your loved ones to continue to view your profile after you’re gone and — if set up properly — to leave memorial notes of love, loss and friendship. However, there have been instances reported of Facebook accounts being “vandalized” after a death, filled with uncharitable and even hateful comments about the deceased. In this case, it’s obviously best to immediately remove the account.
Here are a few helpful links for handling social media accounts upon death:
- Facebook – Memorializing a deceased person’s account
- Facebook – Remove a deceased person’s account (Note: you will be required to upload documentation like a death certificate, the deceased person’s birth certificate, or proof of authority)
- Twitter – Instructions for removing a deceased person’s account (Note: no one, regardless of their relationship to the deceased individual, will be granted access to their account)
- Deceased LinkedIn Member – Removing Profile
- Accessing a deceased person’s Gmail account
Obviously, one way around a situation like Twitter’s requirements is to leave information about access to your accounts for your loved ones before you die. My good friend and fellow Catholic writer Amy Welborn Dubruiel knows firsthand the pain of losing a loved one suddenly. Amy’s husband Michael, a noted Catholic author, died suddenly in February of 2009, leaving behind his wife and precious family. Amy shares on this topic:
Well, it’s not just social media. Almost everything I do regarding finances is online. I have a list of usernames and passwords tucked into my estate papers (not just sitting on my desk!) and really – there are a lot, from Facebook to credit cards to the electric company to the IRS. We owe it to those we will leave behind to make that leaving and aftermath as hassle free as possible so people can be free to grieve and process with as few practical hassles as possible. It’s an act of love.
Here are a few things to consider as you prepare your estate planning:
Create a list of your digital assets, accounts, bill paying services, and other online tools you use regularly. Give access to these accounts to the executor of your estate. (Note: I use the service LastPass.com to capture and secure many of my online accounts – my husband has access to this password). Recent articles in the New York Times and Mashable list online services that provide resources to help you prepare your digital affairs properly.
Leave a “social media will”. Indicate in writing how you would like for your loved ones to handle your social media accounts. Visit USA.gov for a helpful post on preparing a social media will.
Make provisions for your digital assets. If you work online in a revenue generating capacity, leave provisions in your will for the disposition of this property. Additionally, leave access instructions for survivors, including any passwords and account usernames for your assets.
Involve a professional. While listing your accounts and passwords may be able to be done without outside help, more complicated digital estate planning may require the legal expertise of an attorney.
Don’t procrastinate. Note, I’m writing this primarily for myself. If you have a tendency to put off planning, commit today to helping make this particular part of your “digital legacy” easy for your family. With a few simple steps, you’ll have a plan in place.
A question for you: Have you made any plans with respect to your “final wishes” involving your digital accounts and assets? Have you had to deal with the sudden loss of a loved one who left behind a digital footprint? What lessons did you learn in the process?
Copyright 2013 Lisa M. Hendey