What happens to your Facebook account when you die?

FacebookIt’s a simple question without a simple answer, unless you’re willing to accept “it depends” as a simple answer. The result depends upon what you friends and family decide to request and perhaps even what instructions you leave behind. Let’s go through Facebook’s policy and explore all of the options:

Memorialize the profile

Facebook recognizes the importance that a profile can play in remembering departed friends and family. Via a form in its help section, Facebook accepts requests to place accounts in a memorialized state. Once the request is approved by Facebook the account’s privacy is restricted to friends only and certain sensitive information is removed. The profile and wall remain active for friends to post memories and condolences.

From Facebook’s FAQ:

It is our policy to memorialize all deceased users’ accounts on the site. When an account is memorialized, only confirmed friends can see the profile (timeline) or locate it in Search. The profile (timeline) will also no longer appear in the Suggestions section of the Home page. Friends and family can leave posts in remembrance.

In order to protect the privacy of the deceased user, we cannot provide login information for the account to anyone. However, once an account has been memorialized, it is completely secure and cannot be accessed or altered by anyone.

If you need to report a profile (timeline) to be memorialized, please click here.

While Facebook takes steps to verify requests, the requestor doesn’t have to be the decedent’s executor or even a family member, as anyone can complete the request form. This removes some control from the executor, but generally ensures that memorialization takes place at the right time.

Delete the profile

Upon request from a close family member Facebook will remove a deceased user’s profile entirely.

Quoting the FAQ again:

We will process certain special requests for verified immediate family members, including requests to remove a loved one’s account. This will completely remove the profile (timeline) and all associated content from Facebook, so no one can view it.

For all special requests, we require verification that you are an immediate family member or executor. Requests will not be processed if we are unable to verify your relationship to the deceased.

Examples of documentation that we will accept include:

  • The deceased’s birth certificate
  • The deceased’s death certificate
  • Proof of authority under local law that you are the lawful representative of the deceased or his/her estate.

If you are an immediate family member and would like to request that we remove your loved one’s account from the site, click here. You may also use this form if you have a special request regarding the deceased user’s account.

Download the account’s information

Recently WGRZ reported that Facebook will also allow family members to download the account contents of the deceased, if prior authorization or a court order is present.

Quoting a statement from Facebook to WGRZ:

We will provide the estate of the deceased with a download of the account’s data if prior consent is obtained from or decreed by the deceased, or mandated by law.”  - Fred Wolens,Facebook Policy Communications

This is the first time that we’ve heard this last part of Facebook’s policy at The Digital Beyond. Essentially this means that you can leave instructions in your will for your family to have access to the information on your Facebook account, and Facebook will honor that request. Furthermore, the last statement, “mandated by law,” indicates that Facebook will comply with estate laws from several states, which essentially grant the executor access to information stored at social networking websites specifically or all electronic information, depending upon the state.

What should you do?

If you want to have a say in what happens, you should leave instructions in your will. This will allow you to grant your heirs the right to a download of your account’s data or leave instructions to close the account entirely. You could instruct your executor to memorialize the account.

If you want to leave a goodbye message for your friends, there’s an app for that. ifidie allows you to leave a text or video message behind, which it will automatically post upon your death, after three friends or “trustees” agree that you’ve passed away.

More information

If you’d like to create a more comprehensive digital estate plan, we have numerous resources available here at The Digital Beyond, including our list of service providers. And if you’re looking for a step-by-step guide to planning your digital legacy, our book, Your Digital Afterlife, does just that.

We also have a website dedicated to the legal aspects of digital estate planning called Digital Estate Resource.

    About Evan Carroll

    Evan Carroll is an author, speaker and UX strategist who works to make digital experiences more personal, more emotional and more effective. A leader in the developing digital legacy and personal archiving arena, Evan is author and co-founder at The Digital Beyond and co-author of the book, Your Digital Afterlife: When Facebook, Flickr and Twitter Are Your Estate, What's Your Legacy?. Evan has appeared in numerous media outlets including The New York Times, NPR’s Fresh AirObit magazine, NPR’s Here and Now, Fox News, CNN and The Atlantic. A frequent speaker on both marketing and digital legacy, Evan has presented to audiences at SXSW Interactive (2010-2012, 2014), the Library of Congress, and the Internet Archive, among others. Evan holds BS and MS degrees in Information Science from UNC-Chapel Hill’s School of Information and Library Science. He can be contacted by emailing or via Twitter @evancarroll.  Evan's personal site is www.evancarroll.net.

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    20 Responses to What happens to your Facebook account when you die?

    1. Rich February 21, 2012 at 3:54 pm #

      There is a simple answer – https://voxmortuis.com/ can take care of all of it for you

    2. Von March 14, 2012 at 5:19 pm #

      Facebook says to protect the privacy of the deceased user they will not disclose login information? Huh? There is such a thing as a deceased person’s “privacy”, um sorry Facebook – the privacy of a deceased person dies with them! Hilarious!

    3. karen March 15, 2012 at 2:00 am #

      Thought prevoking and interesting. So, if I leave my heirs my login and password,and no one reports me dead…I could virtually live forever?

    4. Vinz March 15, 2012 at 9:41 am #

      hmmm… i’d rather give my account login and pass to either my girlfriend or my parents and siblings… @karen lolz immortality in the virtual world

    5. Wendy March 15, 2012 at 12:23 pm #

      I, myself, like the thought that I still should have my own “privacy” in death, as in Life! Why not? I want just as much consideration in death as I have in my Life!! Thank you Facebook/TimeLine for thinking of those of us who feel this way!! For those that don’t, let them do what they want with their’s ,but not with MINE!

    6. David April 12, 2012 at 7:20 am #

      An increasing proportion of our lives are carried out online.
      What happens to our digital assets – e-mail, blogs, pictures, music, social networking sites etc – when we die? We rarely consider what will happen to all that personal information; how comfortable are we with fragments of our lives floating around the internet?

      Remember that the passwords you have, songs you keep and communications you write are your property. Like any other property you own, it’s important to consider what will happen to it when you die. Do you want others to see or have your digital property? Would you like it to be deleted?

      Also, ask yourself what organisations intend to do with your information when you are gone. Because the law is always playing catch up when it comes to new technology, it is important to make decisions about your digital property now.

      Sensibly over 10% of newly written wills contain information about online passwords. As your passwords change far more frequently than visits to your solicitor could practically allow, it makes sense to log them with Afterme.

    7. Its the first time I’ve heard of Facebook offering the Materialization service of a profile. Just like online memorials, its already setup with pictures and friends, I think its a wonderful idea.

    8. Kevin porter August 21, 2012 at 5:43 pm #

      I desperately need to get access to my deceased sons Facebook account which has been de active
      Ated. How can I get a download of his site so I can preserve it ?
      When I try to contact Facebook I just get automated responses

    9. Evan Carroll August 23, 2012 at 11:21 am #

      Kevin,
      I’m sorry for your loss. I wish I could help directly, but there’s not an easy way to do so. The best thing to do is email Facebook and see if they’ll help. I’ve heard of them helping folks in your situation.

      Best,
      Evan

    10. Ken August 24, 2012 at 11:28 pm #

      Kevin, perhaps don’t try to contact them through your account, or through the links you are shown. Try to contact them via email, or phone them… guess what? I tried to look up a number on google and got nothing. So sorry about your son, but his memory lives best in your heart, it will only be sketchy on a venue such as facebook. God Bless

    11. Climatizare Termice October 30, 2012 at 8:57 am #

      I never thought of that!My facebook account is the last thing I would think in case of my death.But it’s nice knowing that someone can take care of that.Thanks

    12. Stepehn Vallance November 20, 2012 at 5:28 am #

      Hi good info there straight to the point, if you need help making an actual Will please go to: http://www.legalbot.co.uk and our qualified law graduates will help you create your own Will or appoint your own Power of Attorney.

    13. fans on facebook January 2, 2013 at 1:47 pm #

      This is a very interesting situation, one that hadn’t occurred to me. Millions of Facebook users though, so I suppose it’s a very real issue for very many people.

    14. michael January 6, 2013 at 10:11 pm #

      i have a friend that died a while back. we had to hack the password so we could put memorial stuff up for him…

    15. Lorena Wolfe May 3, 2013 at 5:16 pm #

      Facebook mentions “prior consent,” but I haven’t found any way to tell them who has that consent. Does anyone know of a link where I can do that?

      My next-of-kins have my login info, but I’d like to cover that base with FB, too.

    16. more info May 11, 2013 at 7:37 pm #

      I wonder if this is real, or if it’s just Facebook trying to give the impression that their humane and accountable to people’s interests, rather than just a mega-huge, money-driven business.

    17. allstarlikes July 21, 2013 at 4:49 pm #

      I really don’t think Facebook will care people, they just want to seem like they are human too and that way they try to get more attention from media.

    18. Social Farewell July 21, 2013 at 5:32 pm #

      Questions like this one are why http://www.socialfarewell.com was founded. If this is a concern of yours, please stop by our website to learn more.

    19. Paul January 26, 2014 at 11:12 am #

      Dont know what all the fuss is about.. Im taking my lappy with me. Ill be logging on from up or down there :-)

    20. Maria February 4, 2014 at 9:27 am #

      Thanks for this informative post. I found similar service mentioned here http://www.wfaa.com/good-morning-texas/Tech-Tuesday-Social-media-wills-151526665.html called http://www.plannedDeparture.com.

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