Digital Media After Your Death: What Remains in the Cloud When You’re in the Clouds? Part 2

Author: Estate and Elder Law Services

When most people consider the legacy they leave behind after they pass, they think of tangible items such as their house, their investment accounts and their sentimental items.   They are worried about the items they can pick up and give away.   However, as people spend more and more of their time gathering memories, information, contacts and ideas online, they have neglected to plan for the transition of their online data after they pass.   This can leave surviving family members with little to no access to the valuable memories of their loved ones that exist online.

As stated in our previous blog post, according to ABC News, 8,000 or more Facebook account users die daily, and in this age, they likely also have accounts with Instagram and Twitter.  Facebook has reported that they have an astonishing 30 million dead ‘users’ who all had active accounts before they passed away.   What happens to all of that information?  Can your loved ones access it?  Would you want them to?

In some cases, social media sites such as Facebook allow a user to designate a person who would be in charge of “handling” the account after the user’s death.   The majority of the sites, however, do not allow for such preplanning, and require the family to take action regarding a deceased user’s account.

Typically, to access or deactivate a deceased person’s social media account, family members will be required to submit the following:

1. Government issued ID
2. The death certificate of the deceased user
3. The relationship between the family member requesting access and the deceased user
4. The deceased user’s sign on information and email address

Our last post discussed how to transition a Facebook and Gmail account after a loved one has passed away, and also how to plan in advance for the transition of those accounts.   This post will explore the policies of other popular social media and entertainment sites, and will also discuss how you can help your family members access this information after you pass.

LinkedIn Accounts

LinkedIn does not appear to have a system whereby a user can appoint a person to deactive or memorialize his account after he passes away.   Rather, it will be up to the deceased user’s family to handle the account.

Fortunately, LinkedIn does have a page devoted to their process of removing a deceased user’s account.   The information can be found here, and states in relevant part as follows:

httpss://www.linkedin.com/help/linkedin/answer/2842?lang=en

“Unfortunately, there may be a time when you come across the profile of a colleague, classmate, or loved one who has passed away. If this happens, we can close that person’s account and remove their profile on your behalf.

We’ll need you to gather:
1. The member’s name
2. The URL to their LinkedIn profile
3. Your relationship to them
4. Member’s email address
5. Date they passed away
6. Link to obituary
7. Company they most recently worked at”

Twitter Accounts

Last May, a spammer briefly took over a Twitter account belonging to David Carr, a New York Times media columnist who died in early 2016.

According to the Washington Post, the spammer changed the name and photo to “Miranda Davis” and tweeting inappropriate content to Carr’s nearly half a million followers. Within hours, the account was restored and the spam was deleted.  However, this brought light to the vulnerability of a deceased Twitter user’s account.

Twitter clearly states that it will not provide a third party access to a deceased user’s account regardless of the person’s relationship to the user.  Twitter will accept requests to deactivate the user’s account from either an immediate family member or a person authorized to act on the behalf of the estate.  To do this, Twitter requires that the family member provide a copy of his government-issued ID, the deceased person’s username, a copy of their death certificate, a signed statement with a list of additionally required information, which can be found on the Twitter support page.

As family members of a deceased Twitter user only have two options regarding the Twitter account – to deactivate or leave as is, they often do nothing, thereby causing the accounts to become inactive and more vulnerable to the attack of spammers.   As a result, we recommend recording your Twitter username and password so that in the event you pass away, your family members can access your account and save the data that wish to hold on to.

Instagram Accounts

More and more internet users are utilizing Instagram a modern day “photo album,” recording memories and pictures in journal like fashion.   What happens to those photos after a user has passed away?

Fortunately, Instagram does allow for the memorialization of a deceased user’s account, and will also delete a deceased user’s account upon valid request.   Instagram’s policy can be found here, and states in relevant part as follows:

httpss://help.instagram.com/264154560391256/

“Memorializing the account:

We’ll memorialize the Instagram account of a deceased person when we receive a valid request. We try to prevent references to memorialized accounts from appearing on Instagram in ways that may be upsetting to the person’s friends and family, and we also take measures to protect the privacy of the deceased person by securing the account.
To report an account to be memorialized, please contact us. We require proof of death, such as a link to an obituary or news article, to memorialize an account.
Please keep in mind that we can’t provide login information for a memorialized account. It’s always against our policies for someone to log into another person’s account.

Removing the account:

Verified immediate family members may request the removal of a loved one’s account from Instagram. When you submit a request for removal, we require proof that you’re an immediate family member of the deceased person, such as:
1. The deceased person’s birth certificate
2. The deceased person’s death certificate
3. Proof of authority under local law that you are the lawful representative of the deceased person, or his/her estate”

Closing the PayPal Account of a Relative

PayPal’s process is more detailed, as there may be money in a deceased user’s account to which the deceased user’s estate is entitled.   For this reason, PayPal requires the Estate Executor to be involved in the account closing process.

PayPal’s policies can be found here, and provide as follows:

httpss://www.paypal.com/us/selfhelp/article/How-do-I-close-the-PayPal-account-of-a-relative-FAQ1694

“Only the account owner can close their account, unless the owner is deceased.
To close the account of a person who is deceased, please collect the documents below and fax them to us:
–  A cover sheet from the executor (or a person who is duly appointed or authorized to administer the estate of the deceased customer) identifying the account by the primary email address, stating that the account holder is deceased and that the executor wishes to have the PayPal account closed.
–  A copy of the death certificate for the account holder.
–  A copy of a government issued photo ID (such as a driver’s license, passport or state-issued ID) of the executor of the estate.
–  Legal documentation or a copy of the will that identifies the executor of the estate.

Note: If this PayPal account has a balance, we will also require a letter that specifies what to do with the money that remains in the account.
Please fax the documents to 1-303-395-2815 and our Compliance department will review for account closure.
Once all necessary documentation has been received and reviewed, the account will be closed within 1-2 business days.

We can disburse any money that remains in the account in one of the following ways:
– In the United States, the executor will request a check in the name of the deceased account holder. PayPal will send the check to the primary mailing address of the deceased account holder or to the executor’s address. This is the preferred method for exiting funds from a deceased customer’s account.
– Alternatively, the balance in the deceased customer’s PayPal account may be transferred to the bank account on the customer’s PayPal account. An executor will have access to the deceased customer’s bank account.”

Estate & Elder Law Services hopes that this series has been helpful and has started you on the road to considering how to transition your digital assets.  To make the process even easier, please follow this link to our Digital Assets Inventory Worksheet, located on our website.  We recommend that you complete this document and store it in an area that is safe and secure, and that you notify your Executor or Agent under your Power of Attorney where to locate it.  Of course, if you have questions, contact us at Estate and Elder Law Services at 302-651-0113.

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