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Digital Estate Plan Update: Latest Facebook Changes

Posted on: March 2nd, 2015
digital estate planningAn important issue that contemporary estate planning should address is digital assets. One of the recurring challenges with digital accounts is that they ultimately are controlled by the Terms of Service or User Agreements associated with each individual service. Our estate planning attorneys discussed model legislation presented by the Uniform Law Commission last year, which would help states to create laws pertaining to the administration, disposition, or transfer of decedents’ digital assets.

How an executor should handle a decedent’s social media accounts might be addressed in an estate plan, but the individual terms of each social media service could still impose challenges if not planned for properly. For example, Facebook has offered a memorialization service for a number of years. Family or friends of the decedent must complete a process that requires proof of death (death certificate or obituary), after which the account becomes a memorial page for others to post memories.

As of this writing, once a Facebook account is memorialized, it may not be changed. This means the privacy settings active at the time of the account holder’s death will remain. Any Facebook groups the decedent had administered will receive instructions for appointing a new administrator. If the decedent administered a Facebook Page, which could be a significantly valuable business asset, the Page will be removed from Facebook upon request if the decedent was the only administrator. (To ensure the longevity of a lucrative Facebook Page used for business, make sure that more than one trusted administrator is appointed.)

In February 2015, Facebook updated its terms and processes regarding deceased account holders. Facebook now offers account owners the ability to appoint a Legacy Contact. What authority is granted to a Legacy Contact? Legacy Contacts can:

  • Make amendments to a decedent’s profile after it has been memorialized.
  • Pin posts to Timeline.
  • Accept friend requests.
  • Update the profile picture and cover profile picture.

Legacy Contacts cannot see messages that had been received prior to memorialization. One caveat with the new Facebook Legacy Contact service is that the appointed person must also have a Facebook account. If the potential Legacy Contact is not on Facebook, currently it appears that a helpful estate planning strategy would be to have them create an account for this purpose, even if they do not plan on being active on social media. This could help to prevent Terms of Service violations and other complications.

Account owners also have the option of skipping a Legacy Contact and instead permanently deleting their account upon their death. When family or friends alert Facebook of their loved one’s passing, the account will then be deleted.
Review current laws addressing digital assets during your next estate plan review. Provisions for digital asset management may be added to trusts and wills. Learn more about other digital asset management tools.
 
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