Have you ever paused to ponder what happens to your Facebook account when you die? Your estate’s personal representative (aka executor) can delete your account, memorialize it, or set up a memorial page. One thing the personal representative cannot do is log in to Facebook with your account. In other words, your last status update will be your own.
Facebook does not allow its users to share passwords, and the company won’t give out passwords for deceased users. The website does allow a deceased person’s “authorized representative” to request content from a deceased person’s account. The website will also memorialize a deceased person’s account, which prevents anyone from logging into that account and also prevents the person’s account from accepting new friend requests. Creating a timeline in remembrance of a deceased person is prohibited. Instead, Facebook encourages people to create a page to memorialize the deceased person.
What happens if you’re alive but incapacitated? As a Facebook user, you agree that you will not share your password or let anyone else access your account when you accept the website’s terms of service. What is an attorney-in-fact or personal representative of an estate to do? Facebook requires you, as a user, to agree that you will not transfer your account without Facebook’s permission. This, of course, implies that there are circumstances where an accountholder may, with permission, transfer their account to an attorney-in-fact.
But what if you are the survivor, and it is a close friend or relative who is ill or has passed away? Do you know about Uncle Joe’s Tumblr blog about his hunting dogs? Is Aunt Hilde on Facebook? Does mom obsessively tweet? What happens to a person’s online presence when that person ceases to have a physical presence? Law professor Naomi Cahn and scholar Amy Ziettlow tackle these and other end-of-digital–life issues in a post on Slate.com, discussing how digital asset legacy planning can ease the burden on your loved ones in three main areas: bills, data loss, and controlling your online legacy.
Online bill pay is mighty convenient — a modern marvel that frees you from the tedium of writing a monthly check to the electric company. It is also so humdrum that even folks who plan ahead for their own potential future disability by having a durable power of attorney document may forget to provide the attorney-in-fact nominated in the document with information about their online accounts. This is a problem, especially if you opt to save paper and receive email or online statements for your accounts. Remember, your attorney-in-fact can only pay the bills for the accounts they know exist.
How do you pass along your account information? Cahn and Ziettlow include a superb discussion of the digital security issues intertwined with digital legacy planning. As with many estate planning issues, there is no one right answer. But, with sufficient knowledge to make an informed decision, you should be able to make the right choice for you.
This post is for informational purposes and does not contain or convey legal advice. The information herein should not be used or relied upon in regard to any particular facts or circumstances without first consulting with an attorney.