According to a 2021 study conducted by Pew Research Center, 72% of Americans use some type of social media. However, many Americans have not identified a person to manage their digital accounts after they die.
Many people assume that their loved ones will handle their social media accounts after their passing. While they may be correct, their loved ones face no easy task. Typically, family members must individually reach out to social media platforms, present a death certificate and other legal documents, and engage in a time-consuming back-and-forth to get access to a loved one’s account. For those who are successful in gaining access to the account, however, they are left with limited options. Most social media platforms will not provide login information, and will only permit accounts to be deleted or kept visible but frozen.
Other social media networks, however, have recognized the difficulty in managing digital accounts posthumously. For example, Facebook allows accounts to be “memorialized” and looked after by a “legacy contact” after the account owner’s death. When a Facebook account is “memorialized,” the word “Remembering” is displayed next to the person’s name on their profile, previously shared content is still visible, and friends and family can share memories on the memorialized timeline. If the account holder added a legacy contact before their passing, that person is able to make decisions about the account once it is memorialized, such as sharing a final message on the decedent’s behalf, providing information about a memorial service, or updating the profile picture.
But what happens if your most beloved social media platform isn’t as forward-thinking as Facebook? Will your account remain as is, frozen in time until it gets taken down for inactivity? Or worse, will it be hijacked by online scammers looking to take advantage of your unattended account? Fortunately, there are a few steps you can take to ensure that your digital legacy is secure.
#1 Generate a list of your accounts and passwords
Most people do not keep an up-to-date list of digital assets or, if they do, they rarely collect the information that loved ones need to access the accounts. Specifically, loved ones often don’t even know that certain digital assets exist or they are left without the proper credentials to access the data. Therefore, it is important that you take inventory of your accounts and the corresponding login credentials, including security questions and answers. Make sure that all listed usernames and passwords are current, and store the list in a safe place where a designated individual can access it.
Keep in mind, however, that simply giving your passwords to a trusted individual is not always the best option. Some sites prohibit access to accounts by anyone other than the account owner. Therefore, one must carefully read the platform’s terms and conditions to ensure that there is no violation in giving someone access to your account in this way.
#2 Name a digital executor
A digital executor is a person designated in a will to handle digital assets. By naming a digital executor in your will, you can make managing your accounts posthumously a much simpler task. Specifically, you can list all of your online accounts in your will and provide instructions for what the executor should do for each. For example, you can specify that the executor close the account immediately, access the contents and then close the account, or memorialize the account. This saves your loved ones from not only having to guess about how you would have wanted your account to be handled, but also from having to take on the time-consuming process of reaching out to the social media network individually.
#3 Get rid of excess and outdated accounts
Most people have more than one social media account, making it easy for some to go unused and forgotten as they lose popularity. It is always a good idea to clear out old accounts for security and privacy reasons, but it can also make your executor’s job easier after your death. By going through all of your accounts ahead of time and deleting the ones that you no longer use, you will save your executor from having to sift through account after account just to find that they contain nothing of value.
Remain in control
To recap, when it comes to social media, you can secure your digital legacy by: (1) generating a list of your social media accounts and passwords, (2) naming a digital executor, and (3) getting rid of excess and outdated accounts. Remember, your profile may outlive you, but that doesn’t mean that you have to lose control. Take advantage of the time you have now to identify and organize your social media accounts, and put some thought into how you want to be remembered online.