How to Prepare for the Digital Afterlife

So it turns out that as early as the 2060s, there could be more dead profiles on Facebook than living ones.

And by dead, I don’t mean inactive. I mean user deceased.


It’s an eerie thought, this idea of some digital wind blowing through a huge social network, rattling empty profiles and abandoned online outposts.

It makes you think about things. Like what happens to your Facebook when you die? Who gets your iTunes library? Can someone take over your eBay account?

Digital death raises a lot of questions. So what are the answers? It’s a sensitive subject, yet we shouldn’t shy away from it. Death is inevitable, and all our profiles in aren’t going to disappear just because we do.

Here’s some advice about how to prepare your profiles for post-you – plus what you can do with your friends and family members’ account after they pass away.

Learn what to do with social accounts

Social media profiles are constant reminders of the person you’ve lost. Post-death, the constant stream of updates and posts abruptly stops, leaving a haunting and heart-breaking void. So what can you do about this? What do the big social companies let you do?

Facebook allows friends and family members to turn profiles of deceased users into a memorial page which still retains the content that previously existed. This used to only be available to on-site friends of the deceased, but Facebook has controversially changed its terms of service so that if your profile was open to the public pre-death, it will be post-death as well.

Other social networks don’t offer the same memorial opportunities as Facebook. For most of them, it’s about fulfilling the technical (and legal) obligations of closing down accounts. So how does this work?

Twitter requires copies of a range of documents to deactivate a third-party’s profile. This includes a copy of the death certificate and a signed statement from the person making the request.

With Flickr, an executor may need to have a username and password to delete an account. Once deleted, no photo content will be publicly accessible. It’ll even be deleted from Flickr’s servers.

Elsewhere, you might need to submit a report to Instagram if you don’t have the username and password of the person that’s died. If you do have their info, you can login, edit profile and delete.

Understand what to do with retail accounts

Okay, so we’ve looked at social profiles, but what about accounts where you’ve bought stuff? Sold stuff?

It may come as a shock to you, but you don’t own anything you’ve bought from iTunes. What you’ve paid for is the right to consume that content – not own it. And so technically it can’t be transferred to another user. You might still be able to work something out with Apple, though. Get in touch and see.

Understand how to pass on your retail accounts

What about all your Google-related content? Google’s Inactive Account Manager explains what should happen with digital assets once someone has died. A trusted friend or relative could also be nominated to receive data, so all your Gmail, YouTube and Google+ accounts and content could be transferred to your best friend or a relative.

Amazon and Kindle require the user’s email address and a copy of the death certificate, or an executor could contact customer service with the user account details, and should then be able to access content, such as music stored on the Cloud Drive.

Elsewhere, PayPal requires an executor to send copies of their ID, the will and a death certificate to allow access to an account if a user has died. Ebay requires a court order, and Netflix has no information about how to delete a user’s account – you’ll have to call them.

Read more about digital death

Death is a scary topic for most people, and the thought of what happens to your online presence after you die can be overwhelming. But it doesn’t have to be. By taking the time and effort to put the right controls in place, you can carry on with enjoying life and not worry about stuff. To learn more about this phenomenon, read this ebook guide on dealing with digital death.


Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

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