A person’s digital footprint remains online even after they’re no longer blogging, retweeting or double-tapping. How their data is maintained or erased is up to surviving family members and the policies of different platforms. Here’s what you need to know about managing or closing online accounts after a loved one dies—and some tips for planning ahead for your own digital footprint after your death.
This article covers the following:
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Unlocking a phone
For many of us, the most important technology in our daily lives is our phone. Though it might feel odd at first, accessing a loved one’s phone after they’ve passed away can be important for financial, practical and personal reasons. But unless you know the passcode, accessing the phone’s data may not be possible.
Can Apple or Android unlock the phone of a person who has passed away?
The short answer is yes, but not without wiping the phone. Apple takes privacy very seriously. Passcode locks can be overridden, but because of the encryption, the data stored on the device will be erased. And though a court order or death certificate may enable the erasure of a person’s Apple ID and associated data, it won’t let you access the account.
If you’re planning ahead, the best way to ensure future access to an iPhone in the event of a death is to share your passcode with a trusted loved one.
Many Android phones are set up similarly to Apple devices: Overriding the screen lock will wipe all the data from the phone. It’s best to contact the carrier or the phone manufacturer to learn their policies and whether they can help you.
Accessing and closing email accounts
There are many reasons you might want to check your loved one’s email inbox. Perhaps they stored important information in a folder there, or maybe you’d like to personally respond to recent emails sent from people who may not have heard the news about the person’s passing. But unless you know their email password, you will have difficulty accessing their inbox.
Many email providers’ terms of service state that the provider will not share personal information with anyone, even after the account holder has died. If you are attempting to gain access, you may need to submit legal documentation and prove your relationship with the person who has passed away. You should contact the provider to learn their policies and procedures.
Some providers may delete an account if you provide them with a death certificate and written proof that you’re acting on behalf of the person who passed away.
For those planning ahead, Google offers an inactive account manager feature, which allows a user to authorize access to their Google account data after a period of inactivity. This is an option that could potentially make life much easier for your loved ones during the difficult time immediately following your passing.
What to do with social media accounts
Many people choose not to close or erase the social media accounts of their loved ones, because so many of their thoughts, photos, videos and conversations are stored there. If you decide these memories are too precious to erase, you'll want to take steps to safeguard them.
Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp
There are a few options for what to do with a Facebook page when someone dies. You can request that the account be memorialized, which lets friends and family continue to share memories and look back at past photos and posts. Or you can ask Facebook to remove the account. In either case, Facebook probably won’t grant you access to the account.
WhatsApp’s and Instagram’s policies are similar; both are owned by Facebook’s parent company, Meta.
Twitter will deactivate a deceased person’s account if it’s inactive for more than six months or if requested to by an immediate family member or someone acting on behalf of the estate. Either way, this person will need proper documentation.
TikTok doesn’t offer a way to either memorialize or delete an account. It does automatically change the account name after 180 days of inactivity, resetting it to random numbers. You can reach out and try to have the account closed if you have proper documentation.
When planning ahead, consider sharing your login information with a trusted contact who can either manage or delete the account on your behalf.
The colleagues or business connections of your loved one may not find out right away that they’ve passed. LinkedIn can be a great option for helping to spread the word.
Anyone may report a death to LinkedIn by submitting information, like a link to the obituary. LinkedIn will then keep the account from appearing in search results. Certain individuals may be able to request memorialization.
Accessing cloud storage accounts
From tens of thousands of photos to a music collection to a manuscript for an unfinished novel, so much that a person created or cherished in life can reside in cloud storage.
Due to privacy agreements, access to cloud storage accounts is unlikely to be granted (though it depends on the service). Be sure to ask the particular provider about what is and isn’t possible.
Accounts can usually be closed by an authorized representative who has appropriate documentation.
Closing other online accounts
To close a person’s Amazon account, reach out to Amazon customer service.
Etsy won’t grant anyone access to someone else’s account after they pass, but they will close the account if requested.
Google (including YouTube)
A Google account includes much more than just Gmail—it encompasses YouTube, Google Maps, Google Photos and more.
You can likely close the Google account of a loved one by providing documentation to Google. However, unless the user set up access before their death using Google’s inactive account manager, Google won’t allow you to access the account.
If you have access to the account, you can cancel it from the account page. If you don’t have access, you can cancel the account by contacting Netflix’s customer service.
PayPal requires hard copies of documentation from the executor or someone representing the person who has passed to close the account.
Venmo doesn’t have an established policy for closing a deceased loved one's account. If you can log in to your loved one’s account, you can close it. Otherwise, you will need to contact Venmo and let them know what's going on.
Quick links: How to close online accounts after death
- Apple – how to request access to a deceased family member’s Apple account
- Apple – how to add a legacy contact for your Apple ID
- Etsy – deceased members
- Facebook – plan ahead and set up a legacy contact
- Facebook – managing a deceased person’s account
- Google – inactive account manager
- Google – submit a request regarding a deceased user’s account
- Instagram – memorializing an account
- LinkedIn – request removal of a deceased member’s profile
- LinkedIn – memorialize or close an account
- Microsoft – accessing services after someone has died
- Netflix – how to cancel an account for a deceased member
- Paypal – how to close the account of a deceased relative
- Twitter – how to contact Twitter about a deceased person’s account
- Venmo – contact customer support
Protect your family
Unraveling a loved one’s digital data after they’ve died can be a lot of work. It can also be emotionally taxing, especially when grief is fresh. When you’re making plans for your estate with your attorney, you might want to ask them about taking steps to appoint a digital executor. You can provide this person with usernames and passwords to your digital accounts and instructions about whether to memorialize them or close them. This will save your family a great deal of stress.
A prepaid funeral plan can also protect your family. When you make funeral or cremation arrangements ahead of time, your family doesn’t have to make decisions for you or find the money to pay for a service. A Dignity Memorial® planning advisor can tell you more.