Coping With Emotions

What Happens to Your Digital Life After Death?

Making a plan to handle your social media accounts after death allows friends and loved ones to remember you and ensures your digital life is handled the way you want.

Shared memories, birthday wishes, vented frustrations, business connections, heartfelt testimonies. Many of us have a large part of our lives online. Rarely do we stop and wonder what happens to that online version of ourselves when we’re no longer around to manage it? When facing a cancer diagnosis, you may begin to think about how you want your affairs handled. In any estate planning, it helps to consider what happens to your digital life after death.

Making Plans for Social Media

Social media profiles can serve as a way to remember the good times, to celebrate a life and what it meant. However, they can also be painful reminders of what’s been lost and lead to more hurt if not handled properly. As you do any other advance care planning, think about how you want your online life to continue (or not continue) without you. Do you want memorialized accounts? Do you want them deleted? Do you want your account kept active for a set time to reach far-flung connections and then deleted? If you’re unsure, talk with your loved ones about their preferences, and make a plan for how to address those accounts.

How to Prepare Your Social Accounts

Not all social media sites have the same rules, so it does require some fact-checking to understand the steps needed for each site. In general, the following actions take a proactive approach to managing your digital life after death. And we can all do these steps anytime.

  • Set a legacy contact. Some sites allow you to designate someone to take over your account in the event of your death. You can find this in settings. That person cannot change past posts, but they can make limited posts to share news or memorial information. The page then becomes a memorialized page, according to CNET. This way it serves as a tribute and is a good option if you or your loved ones don’t feel comfortable deleting your full account right away.
  • Designate a family member as your digital custodian. This doesn’t have to be official and may not always be legally binding, but it helps to choose a friend or family member to be the custodian of your virtual affairs. Some sites will not allow family members access without a death certificate, and even then, it can be difficult. Choose someone who’s willing to take the necessary steps to have your account memorialized or deleted. You can even share your passwords. As tech companies and the government have cracked down against fake accounts and abuse, falsely logging in as someone else may violate a federal law. However, more and more states are passing laws allowing your estate’s executor to take over your digital data.
  • Make your preferences known. Family members in their grief may make announcements or posts that can be insensitive to some of your social connections. Let your custodian or legacy contact know when it would be best to post a final statement. This person would also be in charge of moderating any new mentions or posts to your account.
  • Include money-making enterprises in your will. If you have a site, channel or social profile that is involved in a business or making money, that can be addressed in your will along with your other assets.

With varying rules of social sites and the emotional toll of losing someone, dealing with social media profiles can be a headache for your loved ones. Taking time to look up the rules, choosing someone best equipped to sort through the rules, and making your wishes known about how you want your online life handled can make these actions easier for everyone.

If you have questions about your digital life or other aspects of advance care planning, UVA Cancer Center offers a number of educational resources and support.

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Patricia Chaney
Patricia Chaney