Social Media & Estate Planning: What Happens to Your Accounts After You Die?

Does anyone else check their Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin or Instagram accounts everyday? If you are like me social media has become ingrained in your life. Whether you are promoting your business (follows us on twitter @kutnerllp), looking at friends’ pictures or catching up on the day’s news, most people have become accustomed to using

b2ap3_thumbnail_Facebook-imageWhether you are promoting your business (follows us on twitter @kutnerllp), looking at friends’ pictures or catching up on the day’s news, most people have become accustomed to using social media. So if these social media accounts have become so important to us shouldn’t we make some sort of arrangement for them when we die?
Yes! I’ve done some research on each of the four social media companies noted above and here is how they deal with the death of a user:

Facebook

Facebook implemented a policy dealing with deceased individuals. Family members can do one of two things – (1) close the account or (2) convert the account into a memorial for the deceased. To do this the family member must provide a valid request. Facebook will never allow you to gain access into another person’s account. So the question becomes what if you want to gain access to your relative’s Facebook account after they’ve passed but don’t have the login information? I’ll answer this below.

Twitter

Twitter is willing to act with a person authorized to act on behalf of the estate of the deceased or with a verified immediate family member. Twitter will deactivate the account if requested. The appropriate documentation will have to be provided to Twitter and the deactivation might be a difficult process.

Linkedin

If someone you know has died (if it’s linkedin it’s likely a colleague) they can close that person’s account and remove their profile. To start the process you have to complete the required forms and give them to Linkedin.

Instagram

This is the social media account that’s so popular with the younger generation. Instagram’s policy is to remove the account of a deceased person from Instagram. However like Facebook (Instagram’s parent company) they will never give out login details. In order to remove the deceased’s Instagram account it requires proof of death.

Social Media Estate Planning

We would suggest that if social media is something that is important to you or you have a special request (i.e. you want your Facebook account to become a memorial) you can easily account for this in your Will. By drafting a specific clause in your Will you give your estate trustee the power to access and handle your social media accounts after your death. You will need to provide a list of passwords and social media accounts in your Will. Something to consider is whether you want to give access to personal messages stored on your accounts.
Digital Asset Trusts are also a possibility. These have been developed by lawyers to keep your information secure. These trusts have been created because there is an argument that your accounts are merely licenses that expire on death. By setting up the trust it gives the beneficiary the legal right to access your account information.

There are also some online services such as Legacy Locker which allows you to store login information to be given to designated beneficiaries after you die. These services do cost money but are something that you may want to consider.

Summary

You may be reading this and asking yourself whether all this is necessary. I would argue that as social media becomes more and more prevalent and branches into every facet of our lives it will be something you want to consider protecting on your passing. Think about it, wouldn’t it be nice if your grandchildren could go to your Facebook Memorial page long after your death and look at your pictures with their loved ones? It’s a new space and it’s just another item to consider when thinking about your estate.

If you have any questions relating to estate law please do not hesitate to contact us. This blog post is for information purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice.

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