3 Steps to Creating a Social Media Will

Several friends have passed away over the last few years. For months after their passing, Facebook still told me whether or not they were online. Google+ suggested I add them to my circles. And Twitter suggested I invite them to join.

Most disturbing of all were the Facebook reminders. Birthdays were the most shocking: being asked to wish someone a happy birthday, months after their passing, with their smiling face or familiar profile picture popping up in my feed all day.

This got me to thinking about what was happening with their account and started my research social media wills. Yes, it’s that kind of will: a way to protect and even pass on your (digital) property after your passing.

There aren’t too many resources out there for this kind of thing, but I’ve summarized what I could find and am offering a few suggestions of my own, based on my work in digital marketing.

3 Steps to Creating a Social Media Will

1. Document all of your social networks

Data security is important here. Keep your password list in a secure place (in a password protected folder on a password protected laptop for example). Use a different password for the laptop/folder versus your usual online passwords and keep that in a secure location, possibly on paper with other legal documents. Update the list when you update passwords.

2. Designate a social media executor

This could be your main, legal executor, but if that person isn’t web-savvy, designate someone else. Make sure this executor is mentioned in your legal will. S/he may need a copy of your death certificate for certain actions on certain social networks, so their role needs to be official.

3. Decide how each of your social media accounts will be managed

Keep in mind that some networks, like Facebook, may be excellent memorial pages and tools for grieving family and friends. I could see Instagram, Flickr, or a blog serving that purpose too, while Twitter and LinkedIn might remain static and a little less useful. Although, don’t be too quick to judge any one network. Ask your loved ones how they might seek out ways to remember you online.

Learn about each network’s privacy settings, active vs inactive options, and account deletion steps. There may be accounts that you, unequivocally, want to remain active or inactive. For others, you could set a period of time until the account is deleted, you could direct your social media executor to download all data (make sure that’s possible!), photos, messages, etc. before deleting the account. Or, you could leave it to your executor’s discretion.

You may also want to stipulate that your social media executor act with the input of close family and friends before taking decisive action and even offer a period of time, or fair warning, so that other friends can download their favorite photos of you, conversations, histories, etc.

If you get into the habit of updating your password list, use that as a cue to check what you’ve designated as your wish for that social network. Add new networks, passwords, and directions as soon as you can.

In creating a social media will, consider the other digital media your family may have to deal with after you’ve passed, including:

  • Desktops and laptops
  • Smartphones
  • Tablets, iPads, and the latest iWhatever
  • Netflix, Hulu, Amazon
  • Online banking and investing accounts
  • E-mail accounts
  • E-mail subscriptions, like e-newsletters, digital magazines, etc.
  • Websites, blogs

If your main executor is also your social media executor, s/he will manage all of these. If they are separate people, carefully consider which property will be managed by which person and articulate that in your will. Some of these designations may seem obvious, but things can easily become complicated and you’ll want to provide as much clarity as possible for your family and friends.

I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s a good thing Facebook reminds me of my deceased friends birthdays. Yes, it’s a little macabre, but as the years go by, I’m less and less likely to remember the date, so I count it as a blessing.

I’m also grateful for the chance to continue to view the photos of a deceased friend or to revisit the messages people shared as a memorial.

I hope their immediate families keep the profiles up or, better yet, that they expressed their wishes before they passed.

Do you have any suggestions or questions regarding a social media will?


Photo credit: Marla Elena