Death in the digital age is a lot more complicated than it used to be.
Traditionally, fiduciaries and family members start administering an estate
by reading the individual's mail and sorting through records at the
person's home. However, with online accounts, paperless billing, and
social media sites like Facebook, these traditional approaches may not
be available to fiduciaries today.
The information needed to locate and access tangible and digital assets
is often in the digital world itself. Given the breadth of digital assets,
it's difficult to know where our survivors would start, other than
that they would likely be overwhelmed. Further complicating these matters
is the uncertainty of existing ownership and transferability laws that
do not adequately address the category of property known as digital assets.
Facebook has been grappling with the issue of digital assets for a number
of years. Previously, it allowed family members to turn the profiles of
their deceased loved ones into a "Memorial Page", with no changes
permitted to the deceased person's Facebook page. But now, Facebook
has added a new option that users can select prior to their death. It's
called a Legacy Contact.
Facebook legacy contacts will be able to manage accounts in a way that
can turn the deceased person's Facebook page into a kind of living
digital gravestone. Legacy contacts can write a post to display at the
top of their loved one's memorialized profile page, change the profile
picture, and even respond to new friend requests on behalf of the deceased.
If they're granted prior permission, legacy contacts can also download
an archive of posts and photos from the deceased, but not the contents
of his or her private messages.
The goal, according to Facebook is to provide a way for friends and family
to manage their loved one's accounts even after they have passed.
Memorialized accounts will now include a "remembering" label
before the person's name.
Being a legacy contact is different from simply logging into the account
of the deceased, and there are important things legacy contacts can't
alter. They can't edit what the deceased has already posted, or what
his or her friends post on the page. If you chose to post a photo while
you are living that looks embarrassing when you are gone, your legacy
contact can't do anything about it. A legacy contact also can't
decide to delete a whole account.
To select your legacy contact, go to the Facebook settings page, choose
security, and then legacy contact at the bottom of the page. You can also
send a message to your chosen contact informing them of your decision.
Keep in mind that you can only select one person so spouses and partners
who often travel together may face a difficult choice about whether to
designate each other. Facebook members can change their legacy contact
selection at any time, but once they've died, a legacy contact can't
pass along the responsibility to someone else.
If you don't choose a legacy contact on Facebook, but name a digital
heir in your legal will, Facebook will honor your wishes and designate
that person. In fact, our law firm has been including digital assets planning
in our clients wills for years.
Call us today to schedule an appointment to discuss any questions you may have.