It can be complicated knowing what to do with online accounts like Facebook, Netflix and even WhatsApp messages and photos stored to the cloud when the account holder dies. This page will give you some guidance.
What are digital accounts?
Digital accounts include:
- email accounts
- online banking and digital wallets containing cryptocurrencies
- online accounts for utilities such as gas, electricity, broadband
- online shopping accounts
- subscriptions for streaming services for films, TV and music
- subscriptions for newspapers, digital books and audio book subscriptions
- personal blogs and websites
- social media like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts
- devices like mobile phones, laptops and tablets containing documents, music, and other downloaded files
Each will have different terms for managing them after their owner has died, so always check the company’s terms and conditions before you make any plans or try to make changes.
Making plans for your own digital accounts
You can consider doing the following:
- Different email providers will have different processes so check their terms. In the case of Google for example, there is an “inactive account manager” function you can set which allows you to share certain parts of your account (emails, drive, YouTube) or notify someone if it’s been inactive for a certain period of time.
- Keep a list of your online bank accounts somewhere safe with your will, so that the people executing your will know which banks to contact after you have died.
- Your next of kin or the people handling your estate will usually be the ones to let utility companies know so that they stop billing you. Keep a list of which companies these are so they know who to contact.
- Think about who you would like to have access to music, movies, e-books and other documents downloaded onto your devices, and who you want to give these devices too.
- Give access to your accounts to people who would like them, just like you would leave someone your books or photo albums. You can do this by writing down your login and password details and giving these to the relevant people. However it’s important to check the terms and conditions of each company providing the account, as some require you to let them know who you are assigning the account or parts of the account to after you die, while others may not allow this at all.
- Include what you want to happen with your digital accounts in your will. Alternatively you can create a “social media will”. Unlike a traditional will, this is not a legally binding document, but it lets you record what you want to happen with your accounts and who you want to manage them. The Digital Legacy Association have a template you can download for free from their website.
- You will not be able to transfer Spotify and iTunes accounts onto someone else, because even though you may have created the playlists you don’t own the songs, only the license to play them on connected devices.
- If you have a website or blog tell your next of kin what you want to do with it. You can choose to delete it, keep it going, or pass it on to someone else, either for free or by selling it. You will have to pass on login details and in some cases instructions on how to use it.
For what to do with your social media accounts, the Digital Legacy Association has produced detailed guides for the most popular ones. Visit their website to find out more.
What to do with someone else’s digital accounts after they die
When someone close to you dies and you are the main person making arrangements like getting a death certificate and registering the death, you might need to manage their online accounts too.
Different accounts might have different ways of accessing them, and some may even require documentation.
Online banks, utility accounts and shopping
After you’ve registered the death you can notify the person’s bank and utility providers. If they didn’t leave a will you might need to apply for probate before you can ask them to close an account. To find out more about applying for probate visit the Citizens Advice guide to dealing with the financial affairs of someone who has died.
Social media accounts
There are generally two things you can do with social media accounts belonging to someone who has died:
- Create a memorial account. Social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram let you create a “memorial” space online for friends and family to share memories. To do this you will need to know the deceased person’s username and provide a copy of their death certificate.
- Delete the account. If you want to delete the account you will usually need to provide a copy of the death certificate and the person’s username. Some platforms allow immediate family members to authorise deleting the account, others also allow someone chosen to act as a representative for the family. Information like the date of death and profile URL might be needed.
- The Digital Legacy Association has information on what to do with mobile phones, computers, and other types of digital accounts.
- The Bereavement Advice Centre lists the contact details of the main providers of digital accounts.