Did you know that Marilyn Monroe has more than 245,000 followers on Twitter? And that the film diva - who did die in 1962 - tweets every few days on her officially verified account? Did you know that superstars Michael Jackson and Prince still have very active Instagram accounts even years after their deaths?
Of course, they never maintained them themselves and the people who were doing it before their deaths probably continued to do so to keep the marketing machine going. But perhaps it has also happened to you that Facebook suggests a friendship to you from someone who has died. This gives Facebook's suggestions, which are often far-fetched anyway, a darker side. This made us ask the question “what happens to your online accounts and domain names after you die?”
“In memoriam” accounts on Facebook and Instagram
On Facebook and Instagram there are three options:
- Your account becomes an “In Memoriam” page,
- Your account is deleted,
- Your account continues to exist without any changes.
On Facebook, accounts of deceased people can become “In Memoriam” accounts. This does presume that you choose a contact that can ask this status for your page after you pass away. Facebook tells you how to name such a contact.
An “In Memoriam” page also secures your account, once the status is given, nobody can log in to your account anymore, not even the designated contact. Your designated contact can’t read your messages, can’t remove or add any friends, the only thing they can do is change your profile picture and header… and ask for the removal of your account.
Instagram has a special page for the purposes of reporting the accounts of deceased people. After the form is filled in, Instagram makes the account of the deceased person into an “In Memoriam” page. To do this you need to provide proof of death along with some personal information. Using the same method, your next of kin can have the account deleted as well.
At that point, nobody can make changes in the account, and the possibility to leave likes, tags or messages dissapears as well. Nobody can start following the account either. But the pictures you shared when you were alive do remain visible for your friends.
On Twitter the rules seem to be somewhat laxer. On their support page we can read this: ‘When a Twitter-user dies, we can work with the person mandated to deal with their inheritance, or with a verified family member, to deactivate the account in question.’ Working with a mandated person… It does kind of sound that your account just continues to exist.
However, it seems that only a very small amount of people currently use the options offered by Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc, and most accounts just continue to exist. This, of course, is very understandable, for the exception of influencers, you’re likely not that preoccupied by your social media that it keeps you awake at night to know what would happen to them after you die. These are things to worry about later, or even preferably, entirely someone else’s problem.
The logical consequence however, is that it is estimated that even today there are approximately 10 to 30 million dead Facebook users. Of course, that isn’t even 1 percent of all Facebook accounts, so that doesn’t seem like a large number. In the long run, by pure mathematical logic, there will come a day when there will be more accounts of dead than living people on Facebook. Except of course, if we start designating contacts en masse.
What happens to your domain name?
We can see the same attitude when it comes to domain names. ‘People do not adapt the email of a deceased family member after their death, it just goes offline after a while’, says Peter Vergote, our Legal & Corporate Manager. ‘That means that nobody can even ask for a transfercode, which makes it very hard to transfer the domain name and information that might be contained in it.’
What then, should one do with the domain name of a deceased person? ‘When the domain name is registered under a legal entity, like an association or a company, nothing would normally need to happen’, explains Peter. ‘Except maybe adapting the name of the contact person, if they have passed away.’
That is different than in the case of a takeover or bankruptcy. In those cases either the person taking over or the curator respectively are responsible fort he domain name. A document from the curator or an official document that confirms the takeover suffices to transfer the responsibility.
When a .be-domain name is registered on the name of a deceased person, it’s the next of kin that need to decide what should happen with it.
- If it’s a personal domain name (for example given name-family name.be) that doesn’t need to remain active, the next of kin should reach out to the registrar.
- If the wish is to allow the domain name to continue existing, and to transfer it to a next of kin, the person in question should get in touch with DNS Belgium and present proof of death in which the name of the deceased as well as the name of the person taking over are mentioned.
The Digital safe
In our digital society, our digital life consists of more than just social media and websites. We have more and more digital data, online documents, and accounts with government agencies, webshops, organisations... Who gets access to them after you pass away?
More than 56.000 Belgians already have a digital safe with a notary. It’s a way of managing your digital inheritance. In this kind of safe you can enter official digital documents, but you can also save passwords or accounts in it. Only you decide who gets access to this digital safe.
Moreover, a digital safe is completely free. And, because the servers of the safe are on Belgian territory, they are protected by Belgian privacy laws.