Digital Death: What Happens to Your Social Media When You Die?

So many people have multiple social networking accounts, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest. That's not to mention all the email accounts and other website accounts, but what happens to all that when a person dies? They don't just disappear. Newschannel 6 took an in-depth look at a how hard it is to get rid of that digital footprint.
It was last May when Allie Echols' world was forever changed. Her uncle Buddy Cannon passed away at the age of 54.

"He was the kind of man who I knew what I wanted in a husband because I had him
as a role model."

Memories of him teaching her how to drive still bring a smile to her face and she is still comforted by his online pictures. She clicks though them often and types encouraging messages on his Facebook wall.

It's become quite common to see a person's Facebook page memorialized after death. Kind words and thoughtful messages keep the page alive.

"It was a way for us to express our final goodbyes for those of us who weren't
there in person," said Echols.

It's become such an occurrence for Facebook that the social networking site even has a policy to memorialize the account of a deceased person. But deleting those accounts isn't as easy as the click of a mouse.

"Things that we post can be out there for much longer than what we ever would have thought and to a much broader audience than what we would have thought," said Dr. Mitzi Lewis with Midwestern State University's Dept. of Mass Communication.

"It's one of those areas where the law has not caught up with the technology," said Kara Blanco, Associate Attorney at Gibson Davenport Anderson.

She said the more seminars she's attending the more she's learning about planning for what are now known as "Digital Assets."

"Make a list of all of these assets that you have and on that list put your login information, user name, password."

There's paperwork that some estate attorneys have. You can fill out your personal online account information with passwords. Everything from Facebook to PayPal and even iTunes.
"Make sure you keep that in a secure location, like wherever you have your will stored, in a safe deposit box," said Blanco.

Don't actually put that information in your will because it will become public record once it's probated and those passwords will enable others to hack the accounts.

Every networking site is a bit different.

Facebook - If you're a family member and you want the page of a deceased to be memorialized you simply notify Facebook. If you want it deleted and you don't have the login and password information it's a lengthy process that requires a proof of the death with a news article or death certificate.

Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest follow the same policies. You can avoid all of that hassle by simply filling out some digital assets paperwork.

"Once we're gone we've lost our chance to have an impact over what happens to our content but if we do some planning up front we can help that decision process," said Dr. Lewis.

There are some sites available that actually do that planning for you. Though they're not for free. Some funeral homes are now offering the free service of a memorial, at your fingertips.

"The funeral home set up this amazing website it was almost like a live memorial," said Allie Echols. "You could go and click on pictures and add stories about him."

Your digital footprint is a piece of history that can be here forever even if you're not so planning what to do with it isn't just a walk in the park, it's serious business.

Digital estate resources show that five states have laws in place that relate to digital assets with regard to estate planning. Texas is not one of those states.    

Another concern from this are email accounts it's easy for those to become hacked or spammed. You can check with your provider for their policies.

For more information on Facebook's policies, click here to find information on how to delete a deceased person's account and here to memorialize an account.

For Twitter, click here.

For LinkedIn, click here.

For Myspace, click here.

Insight about digital death can be found here.

For gmail, click here.

Entrustet and Legacy Locker  do all the deleting and take the burden off family members.

Newschannel 6 contacted Pinterest and here was their statement, "Pinterest can deactivate such an account if a family member asks the company to do so, as long as they can provide proof of the death through something like a certificate or news story."

Crystal Hall Newschannel 6.