How to manage the online legacy of our deceased family members?

Published: 13 August 2019

Although it is a sad issue to consider, it is a fact that our ever larger online footprint will once become a legacy someone else must manage. Social media service providers are constantly refining the possibilities concerning the accounts of deceased people, however, personal arrangements and preliminary planning are also gaining importance.

Although it is painful to face the fact, as the social media has already passed the first 10-year milestone of its history, the large user community also has an ever increasing virtual cemetery. In the first ten years of Facebook, approximately 30 million users passed away, and according to estimates, if the site's user base ceases to expand, in 2065 the number of deceased users may exceed the number of living users, while by 2100, assuming that the platform will still be active, Facebook may have nearly 5 billion memorialized profiles. What kind of cultural, legal and technological practices are available to family members for managing the digital legacy of their deceased loved ones with reverence?

They will always be remembered

This problem is so recent that currently the practical rules of online mourning and legacy management are established by the guidelines of social media sites rather than relevant laws and regulations. The first possible step is to memorialize the online Facebook or Instagram account of the deceased person. This process will be simpler if the account holder specified a legacy contact while still alive. Of course, in order to have access to the legacy in question, the legacy contact must also have an active account.

The service provider shall request proof of death (death certificate or a link to a news article) and then memorialize the account (unless otherwise provided by the deceased person). Memorialized profiles do not appear in birthday reminders, suggestions for People You May Know, or ads. Their content stays online and unchanged; their posts will be visible to the audience they were shared with and friends can share memories on the memorialized timeline depending on the original privacy settings of the account, but no one can log into the memorialized account. This spring, the range of actions that legacy contacts may perform concerning memorialized accounts as moderators was expanded. It must be noted that other pages managed through memorialized accounts will be deleted.

Internet Hotline was once contacted by a minor who was seeking advice on how to remove an offensive post from the site of their deceased mother. The social media site fulfilled the request but only upon submission of both the death certificate and the guardian's statement.

To be destroyed when I am dead

The holder of a Facebook account may choose to have their account permanently deleted should they pass away. Gmail users may also have their account automatically deleted after a specified inactive period. Relatives may request Twitter and Pinterest to delete the account of a deceased person, upon submission of proof of death. For both iTunes and iCloud, Apple regards the ownership of accounts as a licence, therefore repositories and the content stored cannot be taken over after the death of a user; if the heir has no personal access to the account in question, the service provider will not grant them access thereto.

Keep your keys safe

Lots of troubles may arise if the digital legacy contact does not have access to the accounts of the deceased person to save their photos and music files, delete bank card data in accounts used for online shopping and handle incoming messages and pending issues. It is worth saving our passwords and valid login data in a secure place for our family members and update them from time to time so that our future legacy contact may be able to perform their sorrowful digital duties when we are gone.

The relevant Hungarian legal framework

Last year, due to the entry into force of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), Act CXII of 2011 on Informational Self-Determination and the Freedom of Information had to be amended for the sake of harmonisation. That is how new provisions concerning data processing after the data subject’s death (Section 25) were included in this act. Data subjects may, while still alive, authorize a person to enforce certain rights to which the data subject was entitled in his life; however, if no such authorization was granted, close relatives shall be entitled to enforce such rights pursuant to the relevant legislation. It must be noted that such rights may only be enforced in this way within five years of the death of the data subject.

Pushing limits

Many people may find it perplexing or bizarre that modern technologies enable deceased people to send digital messages after their death through certain service providers or applications, at a time determined by them while they were still alive. Receiving a post, email, voice message or photo attachment from a deceased relative or friend may be either a hopeful or an unbearably painful experience. Not even digital technologies are able to go beyond the boundaries of life, yet they are capable of preserving more of the past than ever before.


Information of social networking sites about the management of deceased persons’ accounts:

Guidelines published by the Hungarian National Authority for Data Protection and Freedom of Information (NAIH) in 2015 on procedures concerning the online data of deceased persons:

Website for the delivery of messages after death: