How to set up your digital accounts so that your loved ones can access them if you’re not able to

When a loved one dies or if they are incapacitated, you might wish to access their digital accounts for sentimental items such as photos and videos. These online profiles and accounts are part of your loved one’s ‘digital legacy’.

These accounts often have terms and conditions that mean that they are private and not to be shared. This has led to many families not being able to access a loved one’s account after they have passed away.

As a result, some social media companies and internet service providers have put tools in place so you can decide how your loved ones can access your accounts after your death, or if you lack capacity to access them yourself.

We have set out the process for using the following legacy tools:

For the majority of these tools, the process should only take a few minutes to complete. Doing so will give you peace of mind that your loved ones can access your photos and other digital assets in your absence.

Facebook

Legacy tools

Facebook offers the account holder three legacy options:

  1. Have your account permanently deleted when you die.
  2. Memorialise your account and appoint a Legacy Contact. They must have a Facebook account to manage the memorialised account, but the functionality available to them is limited.
  3. Set up a new tribute section, where friends and family can share posts on a separate page. This is not yet available in all countries.

How to use

To have your account permanently deleted on your death:

  • In the top right of Facebook, tap the downward pointing arrow.
  • Scroll down and tap ‘Settings & privacy’.
  • Scroll down and tap ‘Settings’.
  • Under General Account Settings, Memorialization Settings, select Edit
  • Tap ‘Delete Account After Death’, select ‘Yes, Delete After Death’ and tap ‘Save’.

Default position

Currently, if you don’t use any of Facebook’s legacy tools then Facebook’s default is to memorialise the account:

  • The word ‘remembering’ will appear next to the user’s handle
  • You have the option to allow friends and family to share posts on your memorialised timeline
  • Facebook won’t serve a memorialised profile in the birthday reminders or people you may know features
  • The account is locked and no one can log in.

If there is no Legacy Contact appointed, a loved one will need to notify Facebook by completing a ‘Request to Memorialise Form’.

Further information on memorialisation and what your legacy contact can do with your account is available here.

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Google

Legacy tools

Google’s legacy tool is Inactive Account Manager and you can:

  1. Decide when Google should consider the account inactive;
  2. Choose up to ten people to notify if your Google account becomes inactive;
  3. Choose which data your trusted contacts get access to, and
  4. Decide if your inactive account should be deleted.

How to use

  • Access Inactive Account Manager from the Accounts page – or use this link to access Inactive Account Manager.
  • Click the blue ‘Start’ button.
  • This brings up a page reading ‘Plan what happens to your data if you can’t use your Google Account any more’. It asks you to decide how long to wait before triggering your plan. You must provide a mobile phone number to which Google will send a warning text message before your account is deemed inactive. You can also provide an alternate email address that is associated with your account.
  • You can then choose up to 10 people for Google to notify via email if your Google account becomes inactive. You are also given the option of setting up AutoReply to inform anyone that you are no longer using this account.
  • The next window offers you the chance to decide if your inactive Google Account should be deleted.
  • You will be asked to review your plan before clicking on the blue ‘CONFIRM PLAN’ button.

Default position

If the account holder has not set up Google Inactive Account Manager, the personal representative of the estate may need a Court order to obtain the account holder’s data.

Further information about Google Inactive Account Manager is available here.

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Apple

Legacy tools

Apple offers a legacy tool called Legacy Contact that allows a nominated contact access to your Apple account after you have died. The device must have iOS 15.2, iPadOS 15.2 or macOS 12.1 and later versions. Generally, you have to be aged 13 or over to set up a Legacy Contact, but age can vary between countries.

How to use

  • Open ‘Settings’.
  • Tap your name.
  • Select ‘Password & Security’.
  • Click on ‘Legacy Contact’.
  • Tap ‘Add Legacy Contact’, then ‘Add Legacy Contact’ again. You may be required to authenticate yourself at this point.
  • If you are in a Family Sharing group, you can select another group member as your contact, or you can tap ‘Choose Someone Else’.
  • If you aren’t in a Family Sharing group, or you chose someone else, select someone from the list of contacts. Tap the email or mobile phone number of the contact to select it.
  • On the ‘Access to Your Digital Legacy’ screen, read the notification, then tap ‘Continue’.
  • Select either to ‘Send a Message’ to the contact containing an access key, or to ‘Print a Copy’ of the access key to share manually or add to your estate planning documentation.

Default position

Currently, if the Legacy Contact has not been selected then no one has access to the account and it will ultimately be deleted after Apple’s retention policy has lapsed due to an unpaid iCloud account. If your loved ones want to access your account, they would have to obtain a court order, which can be expensive and difficult to obtain.

Further information on Apple’s policies on how to request access to a deceased family member’s Apple account is available here.

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LinkedIn

Legacy tools

LinkedIn does not currently have tools that allow someone to decide what will happen to their own account before they die. Memorialised accounts allow a person’s legacy to remain on LinkedIn after they’ve passed away.

How to use

If you have the authority to act on behalf of someone, you will need to contact LinkedIn and provide a range of information. More information on LinkedIn’s options to memorialise or close the account of a deceased member is available here.

Default position

A loved one will need to contact LinkedIn to report them as deceased, which will result in the account being hidden.

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Twitter

Legacy tools

Twitter does not offer any legacy tools and in the event of the death of an account holder, Twitter will work with a person authorised to act on behalf of the estate or with a verified immediate family member of the deceased to have the account deactivated.

How to use

The applicant will need to provide the following information:

  • The username of the deceased user’s Twitter account (e.g. @username or twitter.com/username)
  • A copy of the death certificate
  • Proof of ID
  • A signed statement including first and last name, email address, contact information, relationship to the deceased user or their estate, action requested (e.g. ‘please deactivate the Twitter account’),  brief description of the details that evidence this account belongs to the deceased, if the name on the account does not match the name on death certificate.

Default position

Currently, if this option is not used, the account will remain live for six months before being deleted due to inactivity.

More information on Twitter’s policies in this area is available here.

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Instagram

Legacy tools

There are no legacy tools available during the life of the Instagram account holder and when the account holder passes away, there are only two options for the account:

  1. Memorialisation
  2. Deletion.

How to use

For Memorialisation a person authorised to act on behalf of the estate or a verified immediate family member must submit a request for the account to be memorialised. The applicant will need to provide:

  • full name and Instagram handle of the deceased person, and
  • death certificate.

Default position

Currently, the only alternative to Memorialisation is deletion and an authorised person must complete a form called the ‘Removal Request for Deceased Person’ on Instagram. They must provide proof of death in order to have an account permanently deleted. Alternatively, the account will remain frozen and inaccessible.

More information on Instagram’s policies in this area is available here.

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Disclaimer

An article of this kind can never provide a complete guide to the law in these areas, which may be subject to change from time to time. The opinions and suggestions made within this article should not be interpreted as specific advice in relation to any particular individual or individuals. Neither STEP, the article author or their firm accept responsibility for any loss occasioned by someone acting or refraining to act on the basis of the opinions and suggestions contained in this article. More