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Digital Afterlife

With social networking becoming the primary means for many Americans to keep in touch, friends and family are now wondering what happens to these accounts when a loved one passes. Right now, there’s no simple answer to the question of how someone’s online accounts are handled after they pass. There is currently a bill with Legislature that would create a legal right for the executor or administrator of the descendant’s estate to take control of their social media and other digital accounts. However, until such a law is passed, services like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Gmail are all governed by their terms of service – each having different language and procedures.

Facebook has an option to “memorialize” an account, where a friend or family member can report the person has died. According to the policy, the account holder’s death has to be proven with a link to an obituary and a Memorialization Request Form must be completed. Once the account has been memorialized, Facebook locks down the account to protect the user’s privacy. Memorializing a profile allows friends and family to view the profile, post photos, express thoughts and feelings and share memories as they grieve a loss. People who might not otherwise hear of the passing may learn of it through the profile page. Verified family members can also request the removal of the account, but Facebook does not release content without a court order.

Twitter offers loved ones the ability to delete the account of the deceased. They 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. Twitter requires several documents to be mailed or faxed, including the user’s death certificate.

LinkedIn will deactivate a profile when a family member completes a Verification of Death form, along with the descendants email address and place of most recent employment.

Gmail limits any account access to “an authorized representative of the deceased user” following a formal review process. Google also requires a court order for content requests.

There is so much to think about and cope with following the death of a loved one. That is why it is becoming increasingly important for funeral care providers to evolve and provide clients with guidance and support for all necessary arrangements, including protecting the online identity of your loved one.

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