How to manage a loved one's social media afterlife

There are a lot of loose ends to tie up after someone dies. They include removing or memorializing social media accounts.

Erin Carson Former Senior Writer
Erin Carson covered internet culture, online dating and the weird ways tech and science are changing your life.
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Erin Carson
3 min read
Don't let your loved one's social media accounts languish.

Don't let your loved one's social media accounts languish.

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The fate of a Twitter account might seem trivial when a loved one dies.

Sure, social media handles probably won't be worth as much as bank accounts. And they're unlikely to have the same emotional value as jewelry or record collections. They're easy to forget ... until they remind you they're still out there on the web.

Just days after a female acquaintance of Anthony Palomba died of a drug overdose, her name popped up on his suggested friends list on Facebook. Palomba, 30, wasn't sure why. They'd known each other for several years, but weren't particularly close.

All of a sudden, Palomba began wondering what might have happened if they had been closer. Maybe he would have seen warning signs. Maybe he would have been able to intervene.

"Having the internet suggest that I be her friend was kind of a dig," he said, wondering why her account hadn't been shut down.

Ghost accounts are a sad reality in this modern age. They have the potential to trigger grief unexpectedly, unnecessarily. Here are five things you need to know when winding down the social media accounts of a late relative or friend.

Don't ignore social media

When a late friend or family member dies, you don't want his or her name to pop up on someone's suggested friends list the way Palomba's acquaintance did.

It's awkward. It's sad. It's unnerving.

"That's pretty distasteful to most active social media users," said Karin Prangley, a wealth manager at Brown Brothers Harriman specializing in estate planning.

If you're someone's fiduciary, don't let his or her social media account sit abandoned. There are ways to handle those accounts.

Check each platform's terms of service

Each social media website has its own rules for dealing with death. Check what your options are.

Facebook, for example, will delete or memorialize an account if the right online forms are filed. The form requires a fiduciary to submit the death certificate of the account holder. (So does the form for photo-sharing site Instagram, which is owned by Facebook.)

After notifying Twitter you want an account deactivated, someone will get in touch to ask for more information, including a death certificate and your ID.

LinkedIn asks for details, including the late user's email address and obituary.

Logging out: Death in the digital age

Click here for "Logging Out," a look at death in the digital age.

In some cases, you might also need proof you're the user's lawful representative. Figure out what you need and gather your materials.

Don't just log in

If you log in to an account that's not yours, you could be in violation of something more serious than a website's terms of service. You could be breaking federal law.

The new legal space surrounding online accounts means no one is quite sure what all the ramifications of hopping onto a dead person's account are. Add in the regular complications of administering an estate and the potential problems compound.

BBH's Prangley recommends reading the terms of service for each social media service and following the process laid out in each to get accounts removed or memorialized. The account will get taken care of, and you'll stay on the right side of the law.

Call before you post

It's tempting to rush onto social media and let everyone know a loved one has died.


Think about it: No one wants to learn of the death of a relative or close friend through a tweet. It's too jarring, too impersonal.

Before announcing anything online, call immediate family and intimate friends, says Diane Gottsman, who wrote the new book " Modern Etiquette for a Better Life."

That includes the cousins you don't see that often.

"Let everybody -- close family and friends -- know so people aren't shocked," Gottsman said.

Keep your post classy

Eventually, you may want to post a notice online so acquaintances and work colleagues are aware of someone's passing.

Gottsman recommends keeping those posts factual. Include the time and date of the funeral, the deceased's last wishes and a link to the funeral home's website. Stay away from anything that could provoke drama; the comment section of a webpage isn't the place to air family grievances.

"Keep in mind there are a lot of emotions going on," Gottsman said. "There could be some family issues."

Most of all, she says, it's important to be respectful of the deceased, even if it is on social media.

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