It can be jarring to see a deceased Facebook contact “like” your posts. But that’s exactly what occurs when well-meaning social media users leave accounts open, even using them, instead of closing a Facebook account for someone who died.

For example, when Jay died, his wife Tanya logged into his Facebook account in order to reach all of his friends with the news. Then she kept his account open and kept using it, as a way of staying in touch with him as time passed.

Keeping the account open means the deceased person's contacts continue to receive birthday notices and friend recommendations. Alternatively, there are two other options for closing a Facebook account for someone who died: memorializing the page or deleting it altogether.

Memorializing on Facebook begins with choosing a legacy contact

Just as someone designates the executor of his or her estate in a will, a Facebook page’s owner designates a “legacy contact” from among their Facebook friends by way of a simple navigation—Settings > Security > Legacy Contact. A pop-up window displays a pre-written message for the friend explaining the legacy contact designation. This message can be sent as is, edited and sent, or not sent. In the latter case, Facebook officials send notification to the legacy contact when informed of the page-owner’s death.

A legacy contact may perform such actions as add a pinned post, change the cover photo or the deceased’s profile photo, or respond to requests from people not previously Facebook friends of the deceased who wish to visit the memorialized page. A legacy contact would probably want to write an initial post to display at the top of the memorialized-page’s timeline to announce the death and provide whatever details the family wished to share, such as funeral arrangements and where gifts in memory of the deceased could be sent.

Characteristics of a memorialized page

Upon notification of an account holder’s death, Facebook officials immediately memorialize the deceased person’s page. This action cannot be reversed. A memorialized page has several distinct features:

• Memorializing the page freezes the account. Nobody can log in, and content cannot be removed from the page.

• “Remembering” appears prominently by the deceased person’s name.

• Friends can share memories on the memorialized-page’s timeline (as long as the account’s privacy settings allowed postings to the timeline).

• Only Facebook friends of the deceased may visit the page.

• If someone who wasn’t previously a Facebook friend wishes to visit the memorialized page, a family member, estate executor, or legacy contact must submit a “Special Request for Deceased Person’s Account” to Facebook to add that person as a new friend posthumously.

• The memorialized page does not appear in searches.

• A memorialized page no longer generates or receives birthday reminders, other public notifications, or appears in “People You May Know” suggestions.

• News and ads no longer appear on a memorialized page.

If a page has been memorialized without a legacy contact, or privacy settings do not allow posting to its timeline, you can create a group page as an alternative place for friends to share memories of the deceased.

Closing a Facebook account for someone who died

Some survivors simply don’t wish to continue the late person’s online presence in any form. Whether they don’t want to manage such a page or have some other reason, it doesn’t matter. Facebook requires no explanation.

To take a page down, you need to provide proof of your authority for closing a Facebook account for someone who died. Providing a scan or photo of the death certificate with your request to close the account is the quickest method.

In the absence of a death certificate, two types of documentation must be submitted with your request. To provide proof of authority, it can be a power of attorney, a birth certificate, a last will and testament, or an estate letter. For proof of death, Facebook will accept an obituary or memorial card.

It can take Facebook up to 90 days to delete everything, except messages the deceased person sent to friends (which stay in those accounts).

Whether a page is memorialized or deleted, either is preferable to leaving it unchanged at death. After all, no one should become a ghostly presence on Facebook.

Download our Checklist: What to Do After a Death

At Wayforth we work with families in transition. We can empty an entire house within days, sorting what items to keep, sell, donate, and discard. Our employees pack and move everything, then prepare the house for sale. Call us for a free consultation.

Our advice is based on our experience cleaning out and settling estates for our clients. Each project is different, and each state's laws are different. We always recommend that you consult personally with experts about your particular situation before making any important decisions.