On Facebook, a deceased users account can be converted to a memorial page
In her mid-50s, the mother of one died suddenly, and her family was left to notify the people she knew about her passing. Many of those friends, however, had stayed in touch with the woman only via Facebook, the popular Internet social-networking website. As a result, most were unknown to the family.
“It was a difficult and awkward position for the family to be in,” said Shannon Martin, vice president of Olinger Chapel Hill Mortuary and Cemetery in Centennial, where the woman’s final arrangements were handled.
“They were trying to find her Facebook account password to let her friends know, friends in a circle they were not aware of,” Martin said. “We are so electronic nowadays, how does one even know what’s out there for a person?”
For millions, electronic media have supplanted the home address book, where names and family contacts were once stored for years — sometimes generations — and easily retrieved in a moment.
But the Internet and its most-used byproduct — e-mail — have turned what was once a simple task into a chore for families already dealing with the loss of a loved one.
“There is no easy way to find out where a person spends their online life today,” said Todd Feinman, chief executive of IdentityFinder.com. “In today’s world, e-mail is much more attached to your identity.”
The variety of e-mail services available expands annually, and with the advent of social-networking websites such as Facebook and MySpace, the tentacles of personal connections reach even further, many of them anonymously.
Unlike the address book, however,accessing a deceased family member’s e-mail account — even if just to let others know of his or her passing — can become a daunting task that hinges on the service.
Not all providers treat the accounts of the deceased the same, each pressing one rule or another that is in part designed to protect a person’s privacy while recognizing the need for access to what may be important personal information, such as bank account numbers, experts say.
“If you die, your accounts will most likely stay active unless the site automatically deletes the account due to inactivity,” according to Jack Cola from MakeUseOf.com.
Most e-mail servers and websites willallow access to your personal data by the next of kin, but it’s likely they’ll require some form of proof that they’re related and that you died.
In the end, it’s to ensure personal information remains personal, especially with the threat of identity theft by the living.
The rule to protect a person’s e-mails is so strong at Yahoo that all access to a deceased person’s account is restricted, spokesman Jason Khoury said. That includes subsidiary accounts with Flickr too.
“While we deeply sympathize with any grieving family, protecting the privacy of our users remains our priority,” Khoury said. “Yahoo is committed to ensuring that the activities of every person who signs up for an account is confidential, even after their death.”
Khoury said users worried that family members might need pertinent passwords to financial accounts or other important information should “plan for this as part of their estate-planning process.”
It had been the same at Facebook, but that changed with the Virginia Tech shootings of April 16, 2007. Now, user accounts are closed but a memorial page remains.
“We had an outpouring of people who said they wanted their friends’ accounts to remain up so that they could stay connected,” spokesman Meredith Chin said. “We changed our policy to adhere to the current ‘memorial state’ we have today.”
Virtual life after death
Here are the rules on accessing the e-mail or social-networking accounts of deceased family members.
• AOL: Generally requires a family member or estate representative to provide a death certificate. Access provides ownership of the account including screen names and all e-mails. May cancel account as well. Nothing off limits.
• MSN/Hotmail: Next of kin is provided a burned CD of all e-mails and contacts once relationship is established via a variety of records.
• Gmail: Proof of kinship and executorship, and an e-mail from the deceased’s account sent to the person requesting the information is required. If you have private information you don’t want people to look at when you are dead, don’t use Gmail.
• Yahoo/Flickr: No access granted. A death certificate is enough to shut down the account and permanently delete its contents. Flickr photo files remain open, but those marked personal are inaccessible.
• Facebook: No access granted, but a user’s page can be converted to a memorial and sensitive information such as friends and status deleted.
• MySpace: Access granted only to choose what to delete once proof of death established, but the contents cannot be edited. E-mail access allowed if the password is reset, but the original password is not supplied.
Via Denver Post