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.