If you have preferences about what happens to your digital footprint after your death, you need to take action. Otherwise, your online legacy will be determined for you—and not by you. If you have any online accounts, such as Gmail, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Apple, or Amazon, you have a digital legacy, and that legacy is yours to preserve or lose.
Following your death, unless you’ve planned ahead, some of your online accounts will survive indefinitely, while others automatically expire after a period of inactivity, and still others have specific processes that let you give family and friends the ability to access and posthumously manage your accounts.
Last week, in part one of this series, we covered the processes that Facebook and Google have in place to manage your digital accounts following your death. Here in part two, we’ll continue our discussion, covering how Instagram, Twitter, and Apple’s collection of online platforms handle your accounts once you log off for the final time.
Given that Instagram is owned by Facebook, the photo and video-sharing social media platform’s processes for handling your account after your death are similar—but not entirely the same—as Facebook’s. As a reminder, Facebook allows you to name a legacy contact to handle your death, and Instagram gives you two options for managing your account after death: You can either have your account memorialized, or you can have it deleted.
However, it’s your family—not you—that has the final say. This makes it all the more important that your loved ones are well-aware of your wishes for how you’d like this digital asset managed when you die.
In order to have your account memorialized, Instagram requires a family member or friend to submit a special request form, along with proof of your death, such as your obituary or death certificate. Once your account is memorialized, the word "Remembering" appears next to your profile name, and your account will basically be frozen, appearing exactly as you left it before your death.
All posts shared on your memorialized Instagram account will be preserved and shared with the same audience they were before your death. No one can log into your memorialized account, make changes to your posts, profile information, or settings. Additionally, your memorialized account will no longer appear in public Instagram forums, such as its Explore page.
Alternatively, Instagram allows your account to be permanently deleted after your death. According to Instagram's policy, only family members can have your account deleted, and this requires a bit more effort than memorialization.
To have your Instagram account permanently erased from cyberspace, your loved ones must not only submit a special form, but they must also supply your birth certificate, proof of death, as well as proof that they are your lawful representative under local law, the latter of which can take the form of a power of attorney document, a will, or an estate letter.
Twitter’s policies regarding the management of your account after death are fairly simple. In fact, the company only gives you one option: the deactivation of your account. Llike Instagram, Twitter leaves the decision as to what happens to your account after your death up to your family. Twitter’s Help Center offers a page with the specific details about deactivating a deceased person’s account.
If your family has your login and password information when you die, it’s fairly easy. Whoever has your login and password (plus 2fa access, if you have 2fa turned on) can login to your account on their own, and select the “deactivate my account” option. From there, the account will be deleted after 30 days of inactivity. That said, the account can be reactivated, simply by someone logging back into your account before 30 days expires.
If your family doesn’t have your login information, Twitter offers an alternate option for your account’s deactivation. However, Twitter notes that this option is only available to verified family members and estate executors.
The process starts by having a family member or your executor fill out a special form requesting the removal of your account. Following the request, Twitter will email instructions asking the person for additional details, including information about your death, a copy of their ID, and a copy of your death certificate.
From there, Twitter will review each request individually, but as long as the proper information is provided, Twitter notes that the vast majority of these requests are granted. Keep in mind that such requests will result in the account’s permanent deletion, so make sure your loved ones carefully consider their decision, since once deleted, the process cannot be reversed.
As you likely know well, all Apple devices and services require an Apple ID. This ID is used for everything from logging on to your iCloud files and making App Store purchases to tracking and finding your lost iPhone with the FindMy app.
Like Facebook, Apple lets you select a “Legacy Contact” to manage the data and devices connected to your Apple ID after your death. Your Legacy Contact can be anyone you choose, and you can even designate more than one Legacy Contact.
The data your Legacy Contact(s) can access and manage includes items, such as photos, videos, messages, notes, files, contacts, calendar entries, downloaded apps, and backups of any devices stored in iCloud. Your Legacy Contact(s) will also be able to remove the Activation Lock from your devices, so they can personally use them, give them away, or sell them.
However, your Legacy Contact(s) will NOT have access to your login or password information, your payment information, your iCloud email accounts, or any of your licensed media. This means that you can’t pass on your collection of music, movies, or apps, unless that media already exists on one of the devices you own.
Before providing access, Apple reviews all requests made by your Legacy Contact(s). To gain access, your Legacy Contact(s) will need the access key provided when they were first nominated, as well as a copy of your death certificate and your date of birth. This makes it vital for your Legacy Contact(s) to print out a physical copy of their access key and safely store it, rather than relying on it being saved in your messages app or password manager.
Once access is approved, your Legacy Contact(s) receives a special Apple ID to access your account. From then on, your old Apple ID and password will no longer work, and Activation Lock is removed from all devices using your Apple ID. From the time the first legacy account request is approved, your Legacy Contact(s) has three years to access your data and devices, after which your account is permanently deleted.
Although you can manage many of the processes described here on your own, when it comes to preparing your estate plan, you should always work with us, your Personal Family Lawyer®. Using our Life & Legacy Planning Process, we’ll ensure that all of your digital assets, along with your more traditional forms of property and wealth, are preserved and passed on seamlessly to your loved ones in the event of your death or incapacity. And we will accomplish all of this while ensuring you have the maximum level of privacy possible.
With this in mind, check back next week for part three, where we’ll conclude this series by offering an easy, five-step process for including digital assets in your estate plan. This article is a service of Bethany Gilson Casey, Personal Family Lawyer®. We do not just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That's why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session™, during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.