Do You Need a 'Living Will' for Facebook?

Jackie Bedard
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Social media giant Facebook released a new security feature this month that allows users to select whether their profiles should continue on after their deaths or be deleted entirely. 

Just like tangible assets and investments, we encourage our clients to make decisions now regarding how they wish their online assets to be handled upon their deaths. Otherwise, the digital assets risk being lost forever. This includes, but is not limited to, social profiles, email accounts, blogs, photo albums, sound files and other personal websites.

Facebook users can now appoint a "legacy contact" as a kind of executor to manage certain aspects of their online profile.  

The new policy is possibly a reaction to legislative efforts in various states to pass laws that make it easier for relatives to access a deceased person's digital files, reports The Boston Globe

For a legacy contact to assume control of those aspects, Facebook must be notified of the person's death and confirm it before the profile page is transitioned to a memorial page. You can find more details about setting a legacy contact here.

How it works

After the page is placed in memorial, the legacy contact - usually a close friend or relative - can update the deceased person's profile photo, change the cover photo that spreads across top of the person's profile page, and accept friend requests on behalf of the deceased. 

The legacy contact can update the page by posting a message and pinning it to the top of the status updates for visitors to read. He or she may also download an archive of the person's photos and status posts. However, the legacy contact will not have access to private messages sent to or by the deceased person. 

Take and keep control

Should our clients choose to preserve their personal profile page or direct that it be deleted upon notification of death? That's the decision our client should make sooner rather than later.

Status updates, photos and notes left on a Facebook profile could one day be incredibly precious to a client's loved ones. But perhaps that's not what our client wants? Either way, we suggest clients take advantage of the new security setting and either choose a legacy contact so that their profile is transitioned to a memorial page after death or state that they want their account permanently deleted upon Facebook being notified of their death.

Digital asset planning 

As an attorney, we can help clients understand how important online assets like writings and photos can be for loved ones during a time of mourning.

Finally, we suggest that our clients complete a written list or file of all their social networks, online photo galleries, blogs and email accounts, along with passwords and instructions for when someone dies or becomes incapacitated. Many estate planning lawyers provide such services as part of their clients' estate plan. Keeping that list updated when passwords change is crucial. 

To learn more about common estate planning issues, check out our free guide, Estate Planning Pitfalls: The 12 Most Common Threats to Your Estate & Your Family's Future, or to discuss your estate planning concerns, please call our office at 919-443-3035 or use our contact form.​