Ask The County Law Librarian – Digital Afterlife

Q. My 32 year old brother died recently in a motorcycle accident.  He doesn’t have much in the way of assets but he does have a Facebook account with lots of photos and a Twitter account that reflects all of his musings.  Is there a way for me to get access?

A.  The companies that have created the most popular places and tools for online expression have specific policies usually buried in "Terms of Service Agreements" and often involve some effort, like providing a death certificate. Facebook offers to "memorialize" the profile when an individual dies. It deactivates certain features and resets various privacy controls, converting the account to a place where friends can leave remembrances.  The process doesn’t give much direct control to any heir or executor of the content.

Twitter offers a full archive of a deceased user’s tweets to their survivors.

Gone are the days you inherit a physical scrapbook or a diary and this has inspired a variety of entrepreneurs to create startups that manage the details of your digital afterlife. These services store passwords and document your wishes for who gets access to what accounts into a kind of adjunct to a traditional will.  The digital beyond lists such services. 

There is even a book on this topic: Your Digital Afterlife: When Facebook, Flickr and Twitter Are Your Estate, What’s Your Legacy by Evan Caroll and John Romano.

I am sorry for your loss and hope accessing these accounts preserves your brother’s legacy. 

Do you have a question for the County Law Librarian? Just email If your question is selected your answer will appear in next Thursday’s column. Even if your question isn’t selected, though, I will still respond within two weeks.

Coral Henning, Director
& @saclawlibrarian

  • Really interesting and informative. Sorry for that individuals’ loss- 32 is way to young.

    I wanted to ask if within these references you have given is there a way to inform your family that perhaps you have photos on say your laptop, but you don’t have the same photos on your desktop?

  • Coral Henning

    Personal property such as computers and laptops pass on to the heirs, but it the deceased password protected them then using one of the listed services would be necessary for access.


Stay connected to what's happening in the city

* We hate spam, too, and will never share your info.