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What does Facebook do when you die?

About 65 percent of adults used a social media account last year. Of those who are 65 and older,  35 percent had a social media account. With more and more people embracing the digital aspects of social interaction, a large question looms: What happens to all those Facebook accounts when users die? What is your family supposed to do with a Timeline of digital history, jokes and shares, photos and memories, a time capsule of their life that remains behind?

There are a few options, all free, for family members after a Facebook user is no longer able to log in. They include

  • Nothing
  • Deleting
  • Memorializing

Nothing

The first option is to simply let the profile exist and do nothing. Without login credentials, the profile will lay dormant, and continue be suggested as a friend, while still showing birthdays every year. This is the easiest route, but does not offer many options.

Deleting

Family members can request a deletion of the account. This will permanently delete the account, as if it never existed. While this may be a drastic step, removing all of the memories online, it could help a grieving family. For instance, it may be they can’t bear to look at their loved one and the memories are too painful, or they committed some sort of crime. Maybe the account was hacked, spewing inappropriate comments all over friend’s profiles.

It should be noted that once deleted, it may be impossible to get the memories and photos back. They could be gone forever, barring intervention on Facebook’s part – highly unlikely, however, once it is off their servers. Unlike a photo album, it is impossible to recreate the account once the person is gone.

Memorializing

Memorializing offers the greatest number of options for surviving family members, and is Facebook’s suggested way of dealing with the death of a user. Memorialized accounts add “Remembering” next to the person’s name, and will be removed from public spaces. This means they are removed from birthday updates, ads, and People You May Know.

Though no one can log in to the account, all content posted remains, and friends and family can still add to their Timeline. Memories can still be shared, for all to see.

Legacy contacts

A legacy contact can be assigned before death for a memorialized account. Think of them as the executor of your will, if your will were your Facebook page. Think of it as a modern day, far-reaching obituary, with information on the person’s life as well as information on any services.

To assign a contact, go to Settings, Privacy, Legacy Contact. From here, you can search your friends list.

When chosen, you have the option to notify them immediately, or only upon memorialization of your account. There is a default, editable message that reads, in part, “Hi (name), Facebook now lets people choose a legacy contact to manage their account if something happens to them. (…) Since you know me well and I trust you, I chose you. Please let me know if you want to talk about this.”

The contact can add a pinned message to the deceased’s profile. They can also change the profile picture and cover photo, and can accept or deny new friends, such as family members that did not have a Facebook account when the user was alive. They cannot, however, post anything as the person, including new photos.

Facebook is only one of the items you have to think about leaving to your family in the wake of your death. While it may be a good idea to keep a hard copy of logins and passwords somewhere safe, do note that it is against the official Facebook policy to allow someone else to log in to your account. Other items to consider include bank accounts and bill access, burial insurance to help cover the costs of a funeral, and a will.