What happens to your Facebook account after you’ve gone?

What happens to your account on the world’s biggest and best-known social network after you’ve gone?

As of June this year, Facebook had more than 2 billion active users in a world with a population of 7.6 billion people. Facebook users are probably younger and wealthier than the global average, but with more than 45 million people dying worldwide every year, it’s a safe bet that a good number of the deceased are on Facebook.

Facebook provides comprehensive help and advice on ‘Managing a deceased person’s account’, but the accounts of users that have passed away are handled in two ways - either memorialised or deleted.

The first step in managing the account of a deceased loved one is to inform Facebook that they have  passed away.

The network’s default position is to memorialise the account. This as a way for friends and family to share memories after a person has passed away, and to keep information secure by preventing anyone from logging into it.

On memorialised accounts, the word ‘Remembering’ will be shown next to the person’s name on their profile. Depending on privacy settings, friends will be able to share memories on the deceased’s timeline and everything the person previously shared, posts and photos, will still be available to view.

Sensitive to the feelings of loved ones, memorialised profiles don’t show up in ‘People You May Know’ suggestions or birthday reminders.

Security settings

For memorialised accounts, sensitive information like contact details is removed and privacy settings are changed so that only confirmed, existing friends can see the memorial profile.

The only person who can manage a memorialized account is a legacy contact. With prior permission, they will be able to write a pinned profile post, possibly a final message on your behalf or information about the funeral service.

Your legacy contact can also respond to new friend requests, update your profile picture and cover photo and ultimately request the removal of your account. They can also download a copy of what you've shared on Facebook including photographs and videos that could otherwise be lost.

If you don’t appoint a legacy contact before you die, your profile can still be memorialised, but no one will be able to make changes or post updates.

To avoid live accounts being memorialised, Facebook requires verification that requests of the relationship with the deceased and a scan or photo of the death certificate. If the death certificate is not available, a copy of a power of attorney or a Will may be used.

As with everything related to your eventual passing, it pays to plan ahead and leave clear instructions about what should happen once you are gone. In this online age, that includes saying what you want to happen with your social media accounts. With Facebook, the best way to make sure your wishes are met is to appoint a legacy contact to control your account after you have gone.

To appoint a legacy contact, go to ‘Settings’ in your Facebook account, choose ‘Manage Account’ and then add the name of your legacy contact. You can message them immediately to tell them you’ve appointed them or wait until the time is right.

If you don’t want your Facebook profile to live on after you’ve gone, you can leave instructions for it to be permanently deleted from the same page. If no instructions are left, and you haven’t appointed a legacy contact, friends and family can request account deletion on verifying their relationship and the death.