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


Author: Estate and Elder Law Services

Part I:  Facebook and Gmail

Do you Tweet? Facebook? Instagram? Do you email through an online service such as Gmail? Are your photos on iCloud, or your important files on Dropbox?

Have you made arrangements for who will handle your digital files and social media accounts after you pass away? Have you considered if you want your social media accounts, pictures and other online information to remain active? For privacy reasons, you may wish for these accounts to be shut down after you pass away. Alternatively, for legacy reasons, you may wish for the accounts to remain active so your family members may use them as a remembrance.

Either way, if you think your loved ones can effortlessly access your accounts when you’re gone, you’re mistaken. Most online services allow you to designate your wishes regarding the continuum of your online presence after you pass, which is becoming more important with the growth of online file storage, social media sites and the electronic exchange of information.

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.

The privacy laws of companies such as those named above, as well as email providers, make sure that no one is allowed to log in as another user. If your loved ones try to access the accounts, the accounts may be shut down, and the information and memories may be lost.

You could consider leaving a list of your usernames and passwords for your loved ones to use after you pass, however you would need to be diligent to keep them up to date as the information changes. You also need to consider the consequences if that information falls into the wrong hands.

If the accounts remain unchained, the social media profiles and digital information tend to remain active online for some times after the user’s death. To eliminate this growing trend, most social networks and major websites that collect user information have implemented policies for those that need to take care of a deceased user’s account.

If you’ve ever wondered about what to do with these accounts before you pass on – or if you’re unfortunate enough to lose a loved one, Estate and Elder Law Services has compiled a brief guide to help you. This week we will discuss Facebook and Gmail, and next week we will discuss other popular social media accounts.


There are two options for dealing with a deceased user’s Facebook account. Facebook has also recently introduced a “legacy contact” option.

First, a loved one can choose to turn the deceased user’s account into a memorial page. Facebook will maintain the user profile as it is, but will no longer consider the memorized page as an active user. Facebook will also take extra measures to secure the account in order to protect the privacy of the deceased user.

To have a user’s account memorialized, a friend or family member must fill out and submit a Memorialization Request. They must provide proof of the user’s death, such as a link to the obituary, so that Facebook confirm and then complete the request.

Alternatively, a loved one can request that Facebook close the account of the deceased user. Facebook will only accept this request from immediate family members, asking them to fill out a Special Request for A Deceased User’s Account.

Facebook recently introduced another feature to help manage memorialized profiles, called “legacy contacts.” Users can select a family member or friend on Facebook as their legacy contact, which gives them access to their profile when they die.

After a Memorialization Request has been made, Facebook will then allow the legacy contact to help manage the profile after the user has passed, giving them the ability to make a memorial post at the top of the deceased user’s profile, update photos, respond to friend requests and even download an archive of their information. The legacy contact will be able to manage all of these options from their own account, and will not be required to sign in to the deceased user’s account.

To choose a legacy contact, you must access your settings and under the Security tab, click or tap the “Legacy Contact” option that appears at the bottom. If you don’t want to have a legacy contact at all, you can alternatively let Facebook know that you want your profile to be permanently deleted after you’ve passed away.

Accessing a Deceased Person’s Google or Gmail Account

Google provides that in some instances, it may be able to provide to the contents of a Google account or Gmail account to an “authorized representative” of the deceased user. However, there is no guarantee that the authorized user may gain access to the account. Google ensures that it will carefully review all applications for this type of request.

The authorized user will need to email or mail a list of required documentation to Google, including a copy of the death certificate of the deceased user. Google will then review the request and contact the authorized user with a response.

In April of 2013, Google introduced the “Inactive Account Manager” to help users plan their “digital afterlives.”  With the Inactive Account Manager, a Google user can appoint a person who will be notified once an account is inactive for a period of time. The Google user will also have the choice to allow the appointed person to download all of the information within the designated google account. Once the account has been inactive for a period of time, Google will contact the appointed person and allow them to move forward with deleting the account or downloading the information, if permitted.

The attorneys at Estate and Elder Law Service hope that this information has been useful to you. Watch out for next week’s blog which will include information about other popular online services such as Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.