Social Media is relatively new in the context of assets management. In Washington State, social media accounts are considered digital assets and included in a person’s estate during planning, however are limited by company policies. Still new, these are often overlooked, and loved ones can find themselves without a way to access the social accounts. While Washington State has its own guidelines, each social media platform is quite different and the regulations around them are nuanced.
Although considered digital assets, social accounts are in somewhat of a unique juxtaposition in that they contain both public and private information. The family may desire to preserve the photos and memories, but should not necessarily be given access to all the private conversations held over the years. Because of the nuanced nature of privacy regarding social media, each social platform has created its own procedure for social media accounts of the deceased.
We are approaching two decades of Facebook dominating the social web, and this platform hosts a large part of many of our lives. Facebook recognizes this and has its own procedure in place. Once Facebook has recognized the death of a loved one, it memorializes the account: That is, allows friends and family to post and view memories but locks out any login attempts. It also disables updates like birthdays and notifications. As its own version of a will, Facebook has what it calls Legacy Contacts. A person can designate legacy contacts while living, and that contact then has the authority to log in on their loved one’s behalf to post announcements and download photos and histories. Legacy contacts do not have the authority to delete or remove friends, delete or alter past information or posts, or read private messages.
Facebook has very strict privacy policies. Without a designated legacy contact Facebook offers no recourse for accessing the account of a deceased. With power of attorney or a last will and testament, you can request either the memorialization or deletion of an account, but no further access.
Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, has a nearly identical policy with one exception: They do not have a legacy contact option. Because Instagram is simpler in nature and primarily hosts pictures, there are no walls to post to and no need for a legacy contact to access the account. Like Facebook, Instagram allows family members with power of attorney, a verified death certificate, or a last will and testament to request either memorialization or deletion of a loved one’s account.
Twitter is one of the strictest platforms, offering absolutely no login option for relatives of the deceased. Family members can request to have their loved one’s accounts permanently removed, but nothing more. As a private company, even with digital assets laws in place, Twitter is still free to set these rules.
Of course, while these social media platforms have their policies, and are entitled to enforce them as private companies, it’s still possible for you to prepare your family to manage your account. A simple option is to leave all of your login and verification credentials in your will to be distributed to your family members upon your passing. This would, however, grant complete access to your private information, and once Facebook or Instagram learned of your death and memorialized the account, your credentials would no longer be valid. You may also wish to have your accounts simply deleted or memorialized. Whatever your wishes, make sure you discuss your options with your estate planning attorney during will preparation (hint, we know a good one!).
Orbit Wills is here to thoroughly prepare you and your estate, including your digital assets, for passing along when you take your leave. If you’ve never given thought to your social accounts and it’s not been discussed or included in your will, it might be time to revisit and update your will! Give us a call, we can get you set up. Your family will thank you.