Question: What happens to your Facebook account when you die?

Posted February 20, 2015 in Estate Planning, Probate by Lonich and Patton.

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February 20, 2015
Question: What happens to your Facebook account when you die?
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Answer: Now, you can designate someone to control your Facebook account with the legacy contact option.

As estate planners, we see people each day who think about what happens to their personal effects when they pass away. We write wills in order to designate who should receive a client’s material possession upon their death and answer questions like; where do my assets go? Who will maintain control of my estate when I pass away? But more and more of us are starting to consider what happens to our digital possessions such as our Facebook accounts when we die. Facebook has responded by creating what they call a “Legacy Contact.”

Up till now, when Facebook learned that someone died, they would offer only a basic memorialized account that other people could view but couldn’t manage. It would be frozen, angering heirs who wanted to edit the deceased’s online presence. When Alison Atkins died in 2012 after a battle with a colon disease, her sister and parents wanted access to her digital assets. Slowly, these accounts began shutting down in order to protect Alison’s privacy, per the websites’’ terms of service. Later that year when her Facebook account disappeared, her family felt like they were losing another part of Alison.

However, starting this Thursday, you can assign a legacy contact who can have more room to manage an account when the user dies.

Your legacy contact will have limited control

There are limits, however, to what a legacy contact can do. A legacy contact can:

  • Write a pinned post for your profile (ex: to share a final message on your behalf or provide information about a memorial service)
  • Respond to new friend requests (ex: old friends or family members who weren’t yet on Facebook )
  • Update your profile picture and cover photo
  • Download a copy of what you’ve shared on Facebook (this is an additional option that you can add/decline)

There are several things your legacy contact cannot do, and you should be aware of them. A legacy contact cannot:

  • Remove or change past posts, photos and other things you’ve shared on your Timeline (regardless of how embarrassing they might be)
  • Read messages you’ve sent to other friends
  • Remove any of your friends

Choosing your legacy contact

Once you have decided who your legacy contact will be, selecting them is easy. A concern that is coming is what if you select your spouse but you both travel frequently together? What if you both die? At this point in time, you can only select one person with no back up.

Estate planning has always been a complex field and the digital era is adding new complexity to this process. Facebook and other tech companies are starting to realize this, prompting changes to their terms of service. In 2013, Google began allowing people to assign beneficiaries of their Google accounts as well.

Whether you are concerned with devising a plan for either a family estate or that of a business, it is important to get good advice. The attorneys at Lonich & Patton have decades of experience handling complex estate planning matters including business succession plans, wills, and living trusts. If you are interested in developing an estate plan or reviewing your current estate plan, contact the experienced estate planning attorneys at Lonich & Patton for further information as we are happy to offer you a free consultation.

Please remember that each individual situation is unique and results discussed in this post are not a guarantee of future results.  While this post may detail general legal issues, it is not legal advice.  Use of this site does not create an attorney-client relationship.

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