What Happens to Your Facebook Account When You Pass Away?

iStock_000019637795Medium (2)Facebook has finally addressed some issues surrounding your account when you pass away.  Basically, two options exist: you can either opt for your account to be deleted when you pass away or you can appoint a family member or friend, called a “Legacy Contact,” to “handle” your Facebook account.

Before this policy went into effect, if an account holder died, family members often had no recourse.  If they knew the password, they could access the account.  However, if they did not, few options were available because estate administration laws that predated the Internet did not address digital accounts and often did not work to overcome contracts agreed to when the accounts were created.  Previously, Facebook allowed “memorialized” pages of folks who passed away.  The word “remembering” appeared next to a decedent’s name in their profile and friends could share memories and thoughts on the deceased individual’s page.  These pages could exist in perpetuity.  This resulted in litigation between families and Facebook for access to loved ones’ profiles for photos, information about what could have led to a death, or to delete pages, all of which has been difficult and costly.

In order to update your Facebook profile to take advantage of the new options, you should go to Settings and then under Security, visit the Legacy Contact link.  From there, you have the option of naming a family member or friend as your Legacy Contact, who serves as the Personal Representative of your Facebook account.  While the Legacy Contact cannot log into the account, change or delete any previous posts, or read private messages, the Contact will be able to download a copy of everything posted in the account, post new information (about a funeral, for example), respond to new friend requests, and update photos.

Facebook users may find this idea uncomfortable or encouraging.  Either way, it addresses a primary issue that existed, which was when a loved one passed, Facebook accounts often contained important information and memories about a person’s life that loved ones wanted to preserve.  In addition, it can be a helpful way to share information about funerals and the unfortunate news of a loved one’s passing.  On another positive note, social media companies are finally addressing the complex legal issues surrounding society’s ever-growing use of social media sites and how they should be handled when we die.

In 2013, another media giant – Google – began allowing their account holders to assign beneficiaries of Google accounts.  Google has an “Inactive Account Manager” which sends you a text message if you have not logged into your account within a certain period of time (generally between three and eighteen months); if you do not respond to this inquiry, the account is automatically deleted.

What do you want to happen to your social media accounts when you pass away?  Do you prefer to leave a virtual legacy?  Or, have you already changed your settings to ensure your account is deleted, so your information is no longer available after your death?  Whatever your preference, one thing is certain – it is better to make your own choice then to have one imposed upon your loved ones after you are gone.
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About Emily Beekman

Emily joined Mirick O’Connell in 2014 as an associate with the Trusts and Estates Group. The focus of her practice is estate planning, probate and trust administration, and elder law. Emily assists clients with the preparation of wills, revocable living trusts, health care proxies, durable powers of attorney, and MassHealth applications. She also concentrates her practice in the area of estate and trust administration, advising personal representatives, trustees and other fiduciaries on the legal aspects of administering complex estates and trusts. This representation also includes the preparation and filing of gift and estate tax returns on the state and federal levels.
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