After a loved one dies, there’s the expected sober responsibilities of the funeral, obituary, and probate, but there’s also the matter of the decedent’s “digital estate”: That collection of passwords, social media accounts, pictures, digital goods, and other ones and zeros that have come to define who we are. Some people specify how they want their digital legacy handled, but most people don’t, so the job of how to manage their post-death online presence is likely to fall to grieving relatives.
How to ethically handle a dead person’s social media accounts—should you leave everything as they left it, or is it OK to delete a Twitter account full of embarrassing material?—is too complex a question to really dig into here, so I’ll be focusing on the nuts-and-bolts of how to access these social media accounts rather than the ethical considerations.
The legalities of using someone else’s social media accounts
The easiest way to delete or manage a dead person’s social media accounts is to go into their phone or computer. But “easy” doesn’t mean “right” or even legal. Having access to an account doesn’t necessarily grant you the legal right to use it as you see fit, even if their Facebook was left open and there was no password on the phone. This applies even if the owner of the account is deceased. This episode of the podcast “Petty Crimes” explains how you could end up in legal trouble for using even a dead spouse’s social media account in the wrong way.
You (probably) can’t get the password of a deceased loved one
If you are authorized legally to handle someone’s estate, but your loved one didn’t leave behind any passwords, you probably won’t be able to gain access to their social media accounts, unless there are extraordinary circumstances. Tech companies, as a rule, don’t hand out passwords or login information, even of members who die, unless they’re compelled to by a court order. Depending on how the company and user handled security, it might not even be possible. If there’s a passcode on their iPhone, for instance, you’re not going to get in unless you’re good at guessing; Apple doesn’t even store passcodes. In order to manage a deceased person’s social media accounts, you’ll have to contact each online platform separately, and your choice is likely to be between deleting an account and “memorializing” it.
How to delete a deceased person’s YouTube account
If you’re hoping to delete a beloved decedent’s YouTube account, you can contact YouTube’s parent company, Google, right here, and have their Google account deleted. This axes all associated accounts, including YouTube, Blogger, Drive, Gmail, Google+, and Google Photos.
Google also gives you the option of asking for data from someone’s accounts, which presumably includes photos and documents. Whether the deceased would want another person to access their photos highlights how fraught this all is, especially since Google maintains that “Any decision to satisfy a request about a deceased user will be made only after a careful review,” but does not specify what criteria it will use to make its decision. So you’re rolling the dice in a sense.
For Google to consider your request, you’ll have to provide them with a scan of your government-issued ID or driver’s license, a scan of the death certificate, and any other documentation that might apply.
How to delete or memorialize a deceased person’s Facebook account
Facebook offers three options for the loved ones of users who have passed on: legacy contacts, memorialization, and account deletion.
If you have a Facebook account, you can designate someone else as a legacy contact. When you die, they can then change your profile picture and cover photo, write a pinned post on your timeline, and respond to new friend requests. But that’s it. They can’t keep posting as you or do anything else with the account.
If your relative did not think to name you as a legacy contact, you’re left with either straight deletion or memorialization. For straight-up deletion, you’ll have to provide Facebook with a copy of the death certificate, power of attorney, birth certificate (in cases where the deceased is a minor), last will and testament, estate letter, obituary, or memorial card at this link.
Facebook will also memorialize profiles upon request. This adds the word “Remembering” on their profile, removes the profile from “People You May Know,” ads, or birthday reminders. It also prevents anyone from logging into the account. For more information, visit this link.
How to delete a deceased person’s TikTok account
TikTok has no public policy on post mortem account deletion, so your only option is to go to TikTok’s general support page, make a request, and cross your fingers.
How to delete a deceased person’s Snapchat account
Snapchat, like other services, won’t allow you to directly access a decedent’s account, nor does there seem to be a way to get an account deleted. If you can log into the account, you can delete it, according to Snapchat’s help section.
How to delete a deceased person’s Pinterest account
Pinterest says it will delete a deceased person’s account, but offers no details on documentation required. According to its help page, Pinterest “can delete a deceased family member’s account if you get in touch with [them]. Once [they] delete the account, it will not be accessible anymore.”
How to delete or memorialize a deceased person’s LinkedIn account
Like Facebook, LinkedIn can either memorialize an account or delete it. For memorialization, you don’t need to be of any special significance to the deceased—co-workers and casual acquaintances alike can visit LinkedIn’s page, submit a link to an obituary, news article, or any other proof of death. If it passes LinkedIn’s review, the profile will then be marked “Memorialized,” and locked.
For requests to close a LinkedIn account, you’ll need to provide LinkedIn with both a death certificate and proof you have the authority to act on the dependent’s behalf. That means letters of administration, letters of testamentary, letters of representation, or other court orders indicating you are an authorized representative of the deceased member’s estate.
How to delete a deceased person’s Twitter/X account
X (formerly known as Twitter) does not allow for memorialization. You can, however, request an account deletion. Here’s the link. X promises it will work with a “person authorized to act on behalf of the estate, or with a verified immediate family member of the deceased” to have an account deactivated.
How to delete or memorialize a deceased person’s Instagram account
Instagram offers both account removal and memorialization. Memorialized accounts can’t be accessed, the word “Remembering” will appear on them, and the account won’t appear on Insta’s “explore” section. To memorialize an account, you’ll need to provide proof of death, such as a link to an obituary or news article.
The only people authorized to remove an Instagram account are “verified immediate family members,” according to the company. You’ll have to provide the deceased person’s birth certificate, the deceased person’s death certificate, and “proof of authority under local law that you are the lawful representative of the deceased person, or his/her estate.” Here’s a link to Instagram’s form.
How to delete a deceased person’s WhatsApp account
WhatsApp doesn’t have any published policy on removing a deceased relative’s account. So your only real option is to delete the account from within the app on the deceased phone, but again, make sure it’s legal. Here’s how to delete a WhatsApp account. You could also try sending a request to WhatsApp’s support and explaining the situation.
How to delete a deceased person’s Reddit account
Reddit doesn’t seem to have published any official policy regarding deletion of user accounts, but you could make a Reddit account of your own, then message the site’s admins and request help.