Dear Snapchat: Your website provides no information about what will happen to a user’s account after death and gives survivors no information about how to delete the account of a deceased loved one. This article reflects those omissions. If you make your policies about these issues known, we will be a happy to update this article. Or if there is something else you think we should know – like maybe there is a reason you don’t provide this information? – you can contact us here.
What happens to your Snapchat account when you die depends on a few things, including:
The surest way to know what will happen to your Snapchat account is to make a plan and leave any necessary instructions to the people who will be wrapping up your estate.
If you want someone to access to your Snapchat account, leave instructions about 1) how to log in to the account and 2) what to do with it. Neither Snapchat’s Terms of Service agreement nor the support section of its website say much (really, anything) about what happens to the accounts of deceased users. But most social media sites delete the accounts of people they know to be deceased, and you can bet that Snapchat has a similar policy, even if it’s not explicitly stated. So even if you give your survivors access to the account, they will probably only be able to control it as long as Snapchat still thinks you are still alive. And because Snapchat has no discernable process for dealing with a deceased person’s account, leaving your survivors your username and password, may be the only certain way of providing them access to your account.
If you want to keep your account private, you can make a plan for that too. You can:
Delete the account before you die. This is not always practical, but it works. Keep in mind that it will take a while for Snapchat to delete all of the data associated with your account after the account is deleted. Although – in theory –Snapchat deletes snaps as soon as they are seen by all recipients, Snapchat may retain the data for an unknown period of time.
From Snapchat’s PDF for Law Enforcement:
So, if you plan to delete your own account, don’t expect complete privacy because it may take a “limited amount of time” (however much that is) for Snapchat to delete your data and Snapchat could be required to pass data from your account onto law enforcement.
Instruct someone you trust to delete the account after you die. If you don’t want to delete your account before you die, you can leave login information with a trusted person with instructions to go into the account and delete it after your death. Because Snapchat does not have a transparent process for closing a deceased person’s account (like Twitter and many other social media tools have), giving someone else your login and password information may be your best shot at getting your account deleted after you die. Though, keep in mind that your data may remain on Snapchat’s servers for an unknown period of time (see bullets above).
Depend on Snapchat’s unknown policy about inactive accounts. Presumably, if your account remains inactive for a long period of time, Snapchat will delete the account. Snapchat almost certainly has a policy about this, but because they don’t publish the policy, we have no idea how long it will let your account linger without activity before deleting it. Nonetheless, if you expect that no one will try to access your account, you can do nothing and sooner or later Snapchat will probably deactivate your account and delete any information associated with it. (Probably, right?)
Snapchat does not currently allow you to decide what should happen to your account when you die, but it might someday. Tech companies are recognizing that users might want a choice about whether their accounts should be deleted, archived, or passed onto another person. And some companies are providing tools that allow account holders to decide the fate of their accounts. For example, Google’s Inactive Account Manager allows account holders to decide whether to delete the account or pass (some) account information on to survivors after a period of inactivity. Keep an eye out for Snapchat to provide a similar tool.
If you don’t make a plan for your Snapchat account (and no one hacks into it), your account will likely remain inactive for a period of time before Snapchat deletes it. If you do not want anyone to have access to your account, you expect that no one will try to access your account, and you don’t mind not knowing how long Snapchat will hang onto your account information, this “do nothing” approach could work just fine.
However, doing nothing will likely have an undesirable outcome if you want to either 1) give your survivors access to your account, or 2) really make sure that the account remains private. On one hand, unless you leave instructions, the person wrapping up your estate will most likely not be able to access your account. On the other hand, in some states, your executor may be able to get access even if that’s not what you want.
Snapchat is unlikely to give your executor – or anyone else -- access to your account unless it is legally obligated to do so. Until recently, those legal obligations have been few and far between. However, the law is changing and, in theory, your executor’s ability to access your account could vary by state.
In the few states that have laws granting executors authority to access digital accounts, "account custodians" like Snapchat could be required to provide access to executors. So an account that you believe to be private could be made available to the person wrapping up your estate. These are new and untested laws, and you can expect most technology companies to resist providing access to accounts, even in the states where the law requires it to do so.
You can learn more about this, including information about your state’s law on Nolo’s Digital Assets page.
If you do not make a plan, after your death your Snapchat account will probably continue to exist for an unknown period of time before Snapchat will delete it. Depending on your state, your executor may have a slim chance to gain authority over your account, but it will be a struggle.
If you want to control what happens to your account, either plan for it to be deleted, or tell your loved ones how to log into it and what to do with it when they get in.