Before I describe which steps will need to be followed in order to close a loved one’s online accounts once they have passed, I would like to emphasize the importance of advance planning for our own “Digital Will.” As per the US government, creating a “social media will” is now one of the official personal finance recommendations, listed on USA.gov. We can find it alongside advice on home ownership and money management, see the article in the New York Daily News. http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/health/government-advises-americans-create-social-media-handle-facebook-twitter-email-accounts-death-article-1.1073936
It is very important that we create our own Digital Will, which includes a list of our online accounts, user names, passwords and explicit instructions as to how we would like our digital assets handled after we pass. This can be done by writing down these instructions and keeping a copy next to your physical will or by using online tools such as MemorializeMe.com which will guide the user, step by step through creating a personal Digital Legacy. These easy to follow steps will alleviate considerable stress for your heirs who will have do deal with it when you pass.
In case of death of a Facebook user their account is “memorialized”, but if the spouse wants the account to be removed, they will have to submit the proper documentation including the deceased person’s birth certificate, the person’s death certificate, and proof of authority under local law that you are the lawful representative of the deceased person, or his/her estate. When an account is memorialized, then no one can log into it and no new friends can be added. If the privacy settings allow, then friends can post on the deceased person’s wall and the pictures are only visible to the audience it was shared with.
In case of death of a Google user, you will have to contact them if you need access to the deceased person’s account. The decision to provide the content is made after a careful review, but it is important to know that the process is lengthy. There are two parts to the procedure. In part one, you will have to provide information like your name, email address, copy of ID, Gmail username of the deceased and the death certificate.
Once the information is received, Google will review it and will let you know whether you can proceed to part two, which includes getting permission from the US court and submitting the additional documents. Google will not provide you with the content of the account due to privacy concerns.
Microsoft has a ‘Next of Kin’ process that allows the release of the contents such as the emails, the address book, contacts list and closure of the account after an authentication procedure. They won’t provide the password or transfer the ownership.
The process supports only Live Hotmail, MSN Hotmail, or Windows Live Hotmail accounts and does not include SkyDrive, Xbox Live and MSN Dial-up. In the event you would like to request the closure of the account, you will need to contact the Windows Live Custodian of records by emailing them at firstname.lastname@example.org to start the whole procedure. You will have to provide documents such as the death certificate, document proving that you are the next of kin, birth certificate of the user and a copy of your photo ID.
You will provide Microsoft information about the account which includes the email address, first and last name of the user, date of birth, city, when the account was created, and your shipping address. It is important to know that the content of an account is deleted after nine months. After one year of inactivity than the account and its content is deleted, and cannot be recovered.
At the time of registration the terms and conditions state that the account is not transferable to the spouse in case the owner expires. This means that Yahoo will not provide the password to the family. You can, however, contact them regarding issues like suspension of billing service, deletion of private content and requesting them to close the loved one’s account.
As a spouse you will have to give Yahoo a request by letter, with the deceased person’s ID, a copy of the death certificate, and a copy of the letter which states that the appointed person was nominated to be the personal executor of the deceased user.
In the event of the death of a Twitter user, Twitter can work with a person authorized to act on the behalf of the estate or with a verified immediate family member of the deceased to have an account deactivated.
After you have submitted your request, Twitter will email you with instructions for providing more information, including information about the deceased, a copy of your ID, and copy of the deceased’s death certificate.
In the event of the passing of a loved one, only verified immediate family members may request the removal of the account from Instagram. When submitting a request for removal, Instagram will require proof that you’re an immediate family member of the deceased person.
All in all it is important to keep in mind that most social media site are unable to provide account access to anyone regardless of his or her relationship to the deceased. The social media sites will require the deceased person’s birth certificate, the person’s death certificate, and proof of authority under local law that you are the lawful representative of the deceased person, or his/her estate. You will most likely have do to it all via email, and will also have to be patient as they will need to verify all documentation. Once they have cleared that you are indeed who you say you are, you will be able to Memorialize your loved one or close the account.