How Social Networks Handle The Death Of A User

While no one wants to think about the passing of a loved one, the advent of social media and online profiles has changed the way we deal with death in the digital age. Now, instead of closing only bank accounts and stopping utility service, we have the responsibility of closing the social media account of our loved ones when they pass.

Most major networks have made provisions for representatives of the deceased’s estate to access or close online profiles. There are even sites like Your Tribute that allow you to create an online memorial for your loved one. While laws vary by state, each site has different procedures for verifying the death and closing the profile of a deceased person.

If you have a loved one pass on, here are instructions on how to memorialize or close accounts on the major online profile sites.

Informing Sites of a Death or Accessing Profiles of the Deceased on Popular Sites
Facebook Profiles Memorialized

What happens to the Facebook profile of someone you love when they pass away? In Facebook’s terms, their profile becomes “memorialized.” As their official help site explains:

How do I report a deceased person or an account that needs to be memorialized?
Memorializing the account:
It is our policy to memorialize the account of a deceased person.
In order to protect the privacy of the deceased person, we cannot provide login information for the account. However, once it has been memorialized, we take measures to secure the account.
If you need to report a timeline to be memorialized, please contact us.

Google Account Access
Unlike some services, Google does allow access to a deceased person’s account depending on whether the right documentation is submitted.This can be useful to send an email or access the contacts from the person’s individual account to inform others of the deceased’s passing.
Google does require specific documentation of both you and the deceased person, however. As Google explains:

Accessing a deceased person’s account
If an individual has passed away and you need access to the contents of his or her Google account, in rare cases we may be able to provide the account content to an authorized representative of the deceased user. We extend our condolences and appreciate your patience and understanding throughout this process.
At Google, we’re keenly aware of the trust users place in us, and we take our responsibility to protect the privacy of people who use Google services very seriously. Any decision to provide the contents of a deceased user’s account will be made only after a careful review, and the application to obtain account content is a lengthy process. Before you begin, please understand that Google may be unable to provide the account content, and sending a request or filing the required documentation does not guarantee that we will be able to assist you.

Microsoft Accounts
Of the major online services offering online profiles, Microsoft appears to require the most information when someone passes away to close the account. As posted on their official forum:

Microsoft Next of Kin Process: What to do in the event of the death or incapacitation of a loved one with a Hotmail account.

If you have lost a family member, or have a family member who has become medically incapacitated, the following information will help you contact Microsoft regarding their Windows Live Hotmail or MSN Hotmail account.

What can Microsoft provide me with in relation to my family member’s Hotmail account?

The Microsoft Next of Kin process allows for the release of Hotmail contents, including all emails and their attachments, address book, and Messenger contact list, to the next of kin of a deceased or incapacitated account holder and/or closure of the Hotmail account, following a short authentication process. We cannot provide you with the password to the account or change the password on the account, and we cannot transfer ownership of the account to the next of kin. Account contents are released by way of a data DVD which is shipped to you.

How You Can Prepare Your Own Data
There are ways you can prepare for tragedy well before it hits. If you want to make life easy for your loved ones in the event of your own unexpected passing, follow these steps:

  1. Make a list of all of your online profiles. Collect these in a spreadsheet, and be sure to include usernames and passwords.
  2. Protect this list with a password. You don’t want just anyone with access to your computer to be able to open this file.
  3. Give this password to several trusted friends or family members along with instructions on how to access this file in the event of your passing.

By following these steps, your loved ones will know exactly where to close your account if the unthinkable should happen.

Death is simply a part of life, and that’s still true in the world of online social profiles. If you need instructions for how to handle social profiles of someone close to you who has passed, contact individual sites for specific instructions.

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