It might not be high on the list of affairs to get in order when the time comes but eventually many people have to deal with the question of what to with a loved one's digital identity after they pass. Much of what we do online may seem trivial in the big picture but, for many of us, there are deeply meaningful messages, photos, and connections that only live there. The value of online life after death has even been the subject of court cases, waged over ownership of and access to accounts of the deceased. Recognizing this value, some sites have put measures in place to give account holders the power to say what happens to their accounts after they die.
For a while now Facebook has allowed people to choose whether they want their account permanently deleted or "memorialized" after they die. A memorialized account is one where friends can continue to post to the account's Timeline and photos, posts, and other shared items remain viewable. Facebook does it's best to make sure memorialized accounts don't pop up in inappropriate or potentially upsetting places, like People You May Know or birthday reminders. While alive, people can also assign a legacy contact to their account. This is a person who has some added control over a memorialized account, which allows them to create a pinned post for the profile, respond to friend requests, and update the profile picture and cover photo.
If you are concerned about more private pieces of your account (like photos you uploaded but never posted or personal messages) or the possibility that your legacy contact would change your posts after you've past, know that Facebook doesn't permit this level of access in any of it's posthumous options. Other common sites of digital life, like Twitter and Gmail, also tend to favor the privacy of the deceased. Families can request deactivation of accounts and can sometimes gain access to photos, emails, and documents but, if the original owner didn't make clear their wishes on the matter, these actions can be complicated and, ultimately, requests for access might be denied.
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Read more about what happens to your digital life when you die:
Twitter: Contacting Twitter about a deceased user
Google: Submit a request regarding a deceased user's account
Facebook: What is a legacy contact?