What to Do With Someone's Online Accounts After They Die

Policies and steps to take for contacting popular sites about a deceased user

Close-up of eyeball with Facebook reflection
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Social networking profiles represent a part of our lives. When a person passes away, families must often deal with the grim task of figuring out what to do with all their social profiles.

If a deceased user kept their login and password credentials completely private, then getting into any of their social networking accounts to obtain information or delete the account can be a tricky process. When ignored, these online accounts tend to appear active well after the user's death.

To tackle this growing trend, major social networks that collect user information have implemented policies for those that need to take care of a deceased user's account.

Here's a brief look at how a few of the web's largest social networks suggest getting in contact with them so you can gain control of a deceased loved one's account or have shut it down completely.

Reporting a Deceased Person on Facebook

On Facebook, you have two standard options when dealing with a deceased user's account.

First, you can choose to turn the user's account into a memorial page. Facebook basically leaves the user profile as it is but puts a Remembering label on it beside the user's name and prevents it from showing up as an active account (such as in the People You May Know section). 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. 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 of the deceased user. Facebook will only accept this request from immediate family members, asking them to fill out a Special Request for Deceased Person's Account.

Facebook's Legacy Contact Feature

Facebook has 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 for your Facebook account, follow these steps provided by Facebook.

Reporting a Deceased Person's Google or Gmail Account

Google says that in rare cases, it may be able to provide to the contents of a deceased user's Google account or Gmail account to family or authorized representatives. 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 have three options when dealing with a deceased user's Google account:

  • Close the account
  • Submit a request for funds from the account
  • Obtain data from the account

Google will ask you to fill out a form and include scanned copies of required documentation—such as the death certificate of the deceased user—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 to be done with all their digital assets after they've been inactive for a specific period of time. You can find out more about Google's Inactive Account Manager here.

Reporting a Deceased Twitter User's Account

Twitter unfortunately won't give you access to a deceased user's Twitter account regardless of your relationship to the user, but it 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 needs you to provide the deceased person's username, a copy of their death certificate, a copy of your government-issued ID and any additional information about their death. To complete the request, select I want to request the deactivation of a deceased or incapacitated person's account from this Twitter help page and fill out the following form.

Reporting a Deceased User's Pinterest Account

Pinterest will not hand over login information of a deceased user, but it will deactivate the user's account if you send an email with a list of required information.

You must provide proof of death (such as a copy of the user's death certificate or link to an obituary) as well as documentation of your relationship to the person for verification purposes.

Reporting a Deceased Instagram User's Account

Instagram states that you can either report an account for memorialization if it belongs to a deceased user or if you're an immediate family member, request the account to be removed.

You must fill out a request to report a deceased person's account on Instagram and provide proof of death, such as a death certificate or obituary. 

Reporting a Deceased Yahoo User's Account

Although Google may grant access to the contents of a deceased user's account in some instances, Yahoo, on the other hand, will not.

If you need to contact Yahoo about a deceased user's account, you must do so by mail and include the following:

  • A request letter
  • The Yahoo ID of the deceased user
  • Proof that you have been authorized to act as the personal representative of the deceased
  • A copy of the death certificate

Reporting a Deceased PayPal User's Account

To close the PayPal account of a relative, PayPal requires different documentation based on whether or not the deceased user had a will. You will need to provide:

  • A certified copy of the will if it exists or alternatively a statement of who the Administrator if there's no will
  • The contact details of the Executor or Administrator
  • A copy of a photo government-issued ID of the Executor or Administrator
  • A certified copy of the death certificate
  • A certified copy of the Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration if you have it

Once you have the above information, you're asked to call PayPal to make a request to close the account. If the account has funds in it, PayPal may require further documentation to obtain those funds.