As more people continue to jump on the latest social networking site or app to share their interests with friends, dealing with the grim task of figuring out what to do with all the online accounts and social profiles of a deceased loved one is becoming more of a common situation that families are needing to face these days.
If a deceased user kept their login and password credentials completely private, then getting into any of their online accounts to obtain information or delete the account can be a tricky process for family members. When ignored, these online accounts -- particularly the user's social media profiles – tend to remain active online.
To tackle this growing trend, a lot of major websites and social networks that collect user information have implemented policies for those that need to take care of an account.
Here's a brief look at how a few of the web's biggest user-driven platforms suggest getting in contact with them so you can gain control of an account or have shut it down completely.
On Facebook, you have two different options.
First, you can choose to turn the user's account into a memorial page. Facebook basically leaves the user profile as it is, but prevents the memorialized page from being referenced on Facebook as an active user. Facebook will also take extra measures to secure the account in order to protect privacy.
To have a user's account memorialized, a friend or family member must fill out and submit a Memorialization Request. You must provide proof of the user's death, such as a link to an obituary or news article, so that Facebook can investigate and then approve the request.
The other option you have is to ask Facebook to close the account. Facebook will only accept this request from immediate family members, asking them to fill out a Special Request for Deceased Person’s Account.
Google or Gmail
Google says that in rare cases, it may be able to provide to the contents of a Google or Gmail account to an "authorized representative" of the deceased user. While there's no guarantee that you may gain access to the account, Google ensures that it will carefully review all applications for this type of request.
You need to fax or mail a list of required documentation to Google, including a copy of the death certificate for valid proof. Upon review, Google will then get in touch with you by email to let you know if the decision has been made in order to move on to the next step in the process.
In April of 2013, Google introduced Inactive Account Manager to help users plan their "digital afterlives," which anyone can use to tell Google what they want done with all their digital assets after they've been inactive for a specific period of time
Twitter clearly states that it will not give you access to a deceased user's account regardless of your relationship to the user, but it will accept requests to deactivate the account from either an immediate family member or a person authorized to act on the behalf of the estate.
To do this, Twitter needs you to provide the username, a copy of the death certificate, a copy of your government-issued ID and a signed statement with a list of additionally required information.
To complete the request, you must send the documentation either by fax or mail so that Twitter can verify it and deactivate the account.
Pinterest will not hand over login information, but it will deactivate the user's account if you send over an email with a list of required information. You must provide a copy of the user's death certificate, and an obituary or a link to a news article as valid proof for Pinterest to deactivate the account.
In its privacy statement, Instagram asks you to contact them by email. Similar to Facebook, you must fill out a form request and provide proof of death, such as a death certificate or obituary.
Although Google may grant access an account in some instances, Yahoo will not.
If you need to contact Yahoo, you can do so by mail, fax or email including a request letter, the Yahoo ID of the user, proof that you have been authorized to act as the personal representative, and a copy of the death certificate.
To close the PayPal account of a relative, PayPal asks the estate executor to send a list of required information by fax, including a cover letter for the request, a copy of the death certificate, a copy of the deceased user's legal documentation proving that the person making the request is authorized to act on behalf of them and a copy of photo identification of the estate executor.
If approved, PayPal will close the account and issue a check in the account holder's name if any funds have been left in the account.
Planning ahead for how your digital assets are handled after you're gone has become just as important as all your other assets.
By Elise Moreau