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Online last wishes: What to do with your Facebook profile

Saturday - 5/12/2012, 6:41am  ET

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Some online experts recommend families create memorial pages, so that friends and family can honor the deceased without keeping his or her personal page active.

Megan Cloherty, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - Most internet-savvy adults now have to consider their final wishes when it comes to their online profiles.

States across the country are considering legislation that would determine who has the right to access and close a social media profile after its owner has died.

Some major social networks do not have the option for users' families to delete their profiles once they've died.

Managing an online profile may seem a trivial detail compared to what a family has to go through after losing a loved one. But social media experts say profiles that live on can make coping with a loss more complicated.

When Christine Frietchen lost her friend Max, she says seeing his smile on Facebook was nice, but after a while, it became a sad reminder.

"At first it could be a really lovely memorial, but after six months, a year, 2 years, it might get uncomfortable," Frietchen says. "It might even make it hard for someone to move on."

Frietchen, the editor and chief of ConsumerSearch.com, looked into what policies social media sites have in place when it comes to deceased user rights.

Deceased User Profile Policies

Facebook: Frietchen says they have the best established death policy. "They actually have a death policy on their site. It's not hard to find. They will memorialize the account, new people can't friend it and you can't find it in searches." Facebook will take down profiles if the request is made from an authorized person, most likely determined through the user's will.

Twitter: Frietchen says Twitter makes it possible to deactivate accounts of deceased users. There is still a lot of paperwork involved. Family or spouses "must provide notarized form and copies of things."

LinkedIn: The site makes it relatively easy to delete profiles of deceased users. "Family will need a copy of the death certificate," Frietchen says.

Google Plus: By far the worst when it comes to deceased user rights. "Google plus has no idea what it's doing. They don't have a policy at all right now."

What to consider

Like any account, users have to decide how they want to leave access to their personal information. One option is to consider leaving updated user names and passwords along with a will in a safe deposit box or in a trusted location. But before you write everything down, Frietchen cautions users to consider their privacy.

"Facebook can be quite personal. You have to decide if you want someone to have access to that kind of information. Assuming you don't have issues like that, you should update your user name and password information with your will and secure information," she says.

Some states are working on legislation to establish who has rightful access to the deceased's personal online profiles. It is tricky, Frietchen says, because of the number of privacy and fraud concerns related to the issue.

Oklahoma is the first state to pass a law making social media accounts part of the estate, according to Frietchen. Until more legislation simplifies the process, it is up to the user to plan for their death.

"The best recommendation right now is to leave some clear written instructions behind," Frietchen says. "Leave clear authorization for who you want to access your information and give them the ability to do that. That will simplify things down the road, if you really don't want your social accounts to live on after you don't."

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)