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  • Writer's pictureCatherine Swan

Death & Facebook

Many years ago, when I was attending the funeral of my grandmother’s sister, my grandmother told me a story: she had been riding in the car on her way to her father’s burial when she looked out the window and saw other people on the sidewalk, going about their lives.  The images were completely incongruous to her: “What are they doing?” she wondered.  “Don’t they know my father just died?”

A death in the family creates a pause for reflection, and as happened to me last month, I was thinking a lot in the days following the funeral about my loved one and what the changes meant to my life.  But I also wanted to continue on with a sense of normalcy, only I couldn’t: his face was popping up everywhere.

These weren’t hallucinations or some kind of illusion.  No, his face was quite literally everywhere.  On Facebook, friends and friends of friends were changing their profile pictures to include him in their images.  It was always startling, to open my Newsfeed out of sheer habit, and to see my lost loved one.

Here in the eternal world of the Internet, I got to thinking about what it means to lose someone in the digital age.  There are a few important things to know when it comes to death and Facebook:

Facebook has tools you can set up before you pass away

You can designate a Legacy contact, who will be able to post to your Facebook profile in the event of your death.  You also have the options to delete your entire account or to leave your profile as a memorial, and what types of posts will remain on your memorial page.  Facebook allows many more customized options than in previous years, so if you’ve recently done your estate planning and you’re thinking about this topic, it’s a good time to check this off your list.

Announcing a death is always delicate

Even more so when it comes to social media.  Here are a couple of useful articles on the subject:

from Une Belle Vie

from Nooga

While there is no specific etiquette related to Facebook and death, it’s important to consider the deceased’s own social media presence.  As the former article points out, if the deceased wasn’t on Facebook, then announcing their death there is probably not only inappropriate but ineffective as well.

Compassion sounds like a basic, but when we’re grieving, it’s difficult to remember that people grieve in all different ways, and should be left to do that.  While I appreciated seeing the face of my loved one in expressions of love and kindness, I also felt somewhat startled by the images, as they conflicted with my knowledge of the loss.  Ask yourself: am I posting this to inform, or to gain sympathy from others?  It’s important to balance these two.

Leave Your Important Information in Your Legacy Plan

Most importantly, if you don’t want your family to seek a court order just to close your social media accounts, you’ll want to keep all your passwords and information in a place where your loved ones can easily find them in an emergency.  Keep records of your accounts and passwords, and most importantly keep them in a place where you know they’ll easily be accessible if someone knows where to find them.

Add it to the certainties of life: death, taxes, and Facebook.  Because even if your loved ones don’t have an active social media account, in the event of a death, everyone’s picture makes its way to the Internet.  Exercise caution, and take precautions regarding your digital life.

Swan Law can help you design a plan that will speak to your exact wishes and make life easier for your loved ones. 

For appointments, call 970-879-1572 or email

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