The Digital World

Much of what we engage with these days is digital. We file our tax returns online, look up our medical information through a patient portal, store our pictures, movies, and music digitally, keep important information in digital form on our computers or in the cloud, communicate, and shop on.

The list of possible locations for important digital information, websites we use on a regular basis, online groups we are part of, streaming services we use, etc. is often much longer than we would expect. Even the number of usernames and passwords can be overwhelming.

It can be difficult enough to keep track of your own logins. Managing your loved one’s digital affairs after their death can be especially challenging. Depending on how well the information was organized, it could take months to years for you to sort it all out.

If you are fortunate, your loved one left a digital assets memorandum and access to a document or password manager with all of their usernames and passwords with their will. In this case, when you have to take charge of or discontinue certain websites, get their digital financial records, or stop services with automatic payments, you will hopefully have everything you need to do this. If not, there are places you may need to look.

There are a number of things to consider when deciding what to do with a loved one’s digital accounts after their death. One option is converting their social media account to a memorial page if they were on Facebook or Instagram. A more delicate decision is whether to use email and/or social media accounts to announce their death. Finally, there are steps needed to discontinue each of their accounts.

Your Loved One's Digital Files and Information

These days our financial dealings, tax forms, insurance policies, and health information are likely to be in digital form in files that may be found on computers, smartphones, digital storage devices, websites, and in the cloud. Even money can be digital in the form of cryptocurrency.

While older adults may not be comfortable with technology, you will find that at least some of your loved one’s estate and business information will be stored in digital form. The Digital Estates section has detailed information about this information, how to find it, and how to deal with it.

Digital Announcements of Your Loved One's Passing

With so many people having smartphones, email, and social media accounts, it becomes possible to announce your loved one’s death to a significant number of family and friends online or by text. However, these notifications can be impersonal. It may be best to inform close family and friends in person or by phone where emotions can be shared and some comfort provided.

You or a designated immediate family member can create a text and/or an online death announcement, depending on preference and comfort level with texting, email, and social media. There are a number of considerations when deciding whether to use digital notifications to announce your loved one’s death to other family and friends.

There are advantages to using digital notifications.

  • They can be a fast and efficient way to let many other family and friends know that your loved one has died.
      • Social media notifications are most effective when your loved one had an account.
      • This will allow you to reach their entire network of friends and family.
  • It can be less emotionally draining than notifying everyone personally while you are beginning the grief process.
  • An alternative is a phone chain, where you tell several close family and friends and ask them to begin to spread the news for you by contacting certain others.

While most people have smartphones and email accounts, you will only be able to reach those with social media accounts using this method.

Consider whether digital announcements will be appropriate and effective.

  • Are there enough people in your loved one’s social media networks to make it worthwhile?
  • Do they check their texts, email, or postings often enough to be effective?
  • Will they be receptive to a digital notification?
  • These may not be true if your loved one was older, but you will need to make an individual decision for each person you want to contact online.

Which other family and friends do you want to limit notifications to?

  • If you send or post funeral/viewing/memorial details, do you want to further limit notifications to only those you want to attend?
  • Limiting notifications can be complicated with social media accounts.
      • To limit the announcement you would need to send private messages to each individual, since a single post is available to anyone on your friends list.
      • This can be done with an E-invitation.\

If you choose personal digital notifications, you need to be sensitive and tactful.

  • It is best to begin with a statement such as, “I’ve got sad news about the passing away of a member of my family” or use it as the Subject in an email.
      • This may prepare the person for the news and/or give them the opportunity to postpone reading the news if they are not in a situation to deal with it.
      • You might include an apology about notifying them in this manner.
  • It is best to keep the message short with only basic facts.
      • Avoid emotional statements, such as they will be missed or how much they were loved. 
      • Despite this, you will likely have a deluge of sympathetic responses.

If you are not their closest family member (i.e not a surviving spouse or child) allow that person to make the initial announcement before you spread the word to others.

Be specific about whether or not the notification can be shared or forwarded.

Texts, emails, and social media posts are less secure than a phone call.

Posting death announcements and funeral/memorial details on a public platform such as a mass emailing, general/status post on social media, or in the newspaper may be the only way to ensure everyone who needs to know has been informed.

  • Make sure you have notified all close family and friends and waited at least one to two days to avoid them learning the news while browsing the internet.
  • Be sure to specify all the details to avoid confusion. In general, a death and funeral/memorial announcement should at least include:
      • The name of your loved one;
      • The date of their passing;
      • The date, time, and location of viewing, service, and/or burial; and
      • Any specific details such as whether each event will be open to the public, reserved for family and close friends, or family members only.
  • You may want to include the cause of death
  • Unfortunately, making an announcement in a public space may result in unwanted responses and negative comments.

In some cases, you may wish to include extra details in a public death announcement such as the surviving family members’ names, an individual photo, the deceased’s employer, or information on where memorial contributions can be made.

Beyond the initial notification, you can use social media to provide additional information about your loved one to others.

  • You can share positive memories, although avoid any that are too personal for security reasons.
  • Upload appropriate pictures/videos.
  • You can share their obituary, but avoid excessive details about their death.