Here are five steps to plan your social media afterlife:
- Make a plan (aka follow these steps). Yes, it's uncomfortable to think about. But if the worst happens, you and your loved ones will be prepared. (I'm starting to sound like a funeral home...)
- Make it safe. Just emailing your usernames and passwords to your mom doesn't cut it. Either keep a hard copy in a safe, secure place or find an online resource to safeguard your privacy. Check out Mashable for a few resources (some free, others paid) that provide everything from username and password transfers to emails from the afterlife: http://mashable.com/2010/10/11/social-media-after-death/.
- Think about what information you want out there after you're gone and what can be taken down (photos, posts, profile information, etc)
- Consider how you'd like people to be able to interact with your profiles after your death. It can help in the grieving process, for example, for friends to be able to leave messages on the Facebook wall of a deceased person or access their photos. When a person is reported as deceased on Facebook, their account is "memorialized" and privacy settings are enhanced to allow only friends to see the profile or locate it in search.
- Share your wishes with your loved ones. Having a plan is great, but only effective if someone knows what that plan is.
For those of you who have unfortunately experienced the loss of a loved one without this type of plan in place, Facebook provides a form to report a deceased person. Filling out this form will prompt Facebook to memorialize the person's account. On Twitter, loved ones can contact the company via mail or email and provide verification of the death to deactive the account and/or save a backup of the user's public Tweets. Check the policies or help sections of other social networks to find information on their process for handling profiles after death.
UPDATE: Here are some very thorough and useful articles on this topic from an Australian life insurance copmany.