Social media after death: what happens?

Speaker discusses late loved ones’ online presence

By Sam Wildow - Miami Valley Today



PIQUA — The Piqua Public Library hosted a presentation on “Social Media After Death” and digital estates as part of the One Book, Many Communities reading initiative for the northern Miami Valley residents this week.

William House from Lovett & House Attorneys at Law presented on “Social Media After Death,” advising attendees on what options they have for social media platforms of loved ones who have passed as well as their own social media platforms and digital estates.

This is the first year for the One Book, Many Communities reading initiative, in which participants were encouraged to read “The One” by John Marrs and then take place in discussions about the book and topics related to the book. A wrap-up Skype discussion with Marrs will be held at Edison State Community College on Wednesday, April 10, at 1:30 pm.

“What is a digital estate? Well, it’s all your social media accounts, your Twitter, your Facebook, your Instagram, all of that,” said House, who has been a practicing attorney for 11 years and focuses on estate planning. “It’s your email, and it’s digital media, such as music, movies, photographs that you save online.”

In addressing social media, he said that that the options mostly come down to deleting or memorializing a number of social media accounts.

“Facebook, when you pass away, basically leaves two main functions. One is they can help your family permanently delete the account. The second is that they can create a memorial account,” House said.

With a memorial account, it can be left up so friends can share memories on the timeline and content that the user created is still available, although it’s only visible to certain audiences, such as the deceased person’s friend list. House said that additional friends are not able to be added to the deceased person’s friend list and the content is not public.

House went on to say that a Facebook memorial account can be managed by a legacy contact, which Facebook defines as “someone you choose to look after your account if it’s memorialized.” The legacy contact can write a pinned post for the memorial account, such as to share a final message or provide information about a memorial service, as well as update the profile picture and cover photo on the memorial account or request the removal of that account.

The legacy contact will also have the option to download content that had been previously shared on that Facebook account, such as photos. Legacy contacts cannot log in to the account, read any messages, remove any friends, or make new friends for that account. To establish a legacy contact for someone’s Facebook account for after they pass away, the user can go under their Facebook settings and click on manage account.

YouTube also allows a trusted, appointed contact to download any created content for posterity.

“Twitter will not provide account access regardless of the relationship of the deceased person,” House said. “There are some social media if you can prove that they are close family members … and you can prove that they are deceased, they will allow a limited access. Twitter is not providing anybody access whatsoever.”

Twitter will allow close family members to request the removal of the account as long as the person requesting this is verified to be immediate family or if that person is a court-appointed executor of an estate, House said. The person requesting this will need documents proving the relationship and the death of the account user, such as the death certificate, letters of authority from the appropriate probate court, and so on.

Other social media accounts are similar to these options, such as Instagram, which also allows for either requesting to delete the account or memorializing it. Memorializing the account does not provide access, House said.

“It secures the account basically in a format that it was prior to the person’s passing,” House said, adding that Instagram also utilizes an algorithm to attempt to keep the memorial account from public places, such as suggestions of accounts to follow.

Instagram will also allow verified close family members or court-appointed executors to request the removal of the account.

“Instagram requires more proof of your passing to close your account than the Miami County Probate Court does for me to file an estate for you,” House said. “I do not need a death certificate to open your estate in Miami County.”

As for email, like Gmail or Yahoo, they will allow requests to close the account, but they will not provide access unless there is an extenuating circumstance, such as maybe a criminal investigation. For Yahoo, none of the content is transferable.

“All you can do is request to close the account,” House said. He added that this would require a letter with the Yahoo ID of the account, a copy of the death certificate, and proof of the relationship to the deceased.

None of those social media platforms provide direct access to the accounts, though. House explained that while someone may have the login information to the social media accounts of someone who passed away, it does not necessarily mean that someone is allowed to log in and access those accounts. House said that the law in regard to digital accounts mostly addresses identity theft and corporate espionage issues, but does not mean that accessing the social media or email account of someone who has passed away is legal.

In regard to digital media on platforms such as music on Apple Music, ebooks on Kindle, and video games on Steam, House went over end user license agreements (EULA) and how “it establishes your rights and limitations on using the software.” He said that users do not own the media that they access on those applications, they just pay for the right to access it. This means that the media on those applications cannot be transferred to another account.

House also advised that people who store photos and content on cloud services on Apple’s iCloud storage should also store copies of those photos on an external hard drive or other device if they wish to keep those items for posterity rather than just sharing the photos. Once the user passes away and if that iCloud account was not shared, others may not be able to access those old photos.

“Back it up in multiple ways on multiple media,” House said.

Speaker discusses late loved ones’ online presence

By Sam Wildow

Miami Valley Today

Reach Sam Wildow at

Reach Sam Wildow at