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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Facebook User's Death Can Cause Estate Planning Problems

What happens to a Facebook account when the user dies? I previously wrote about how protecting your "virtual assets" is an important piece of estate planning, and this issue is proving to be important as Facebook is bearing the brunt of some complaints from unhappy or frustrated family members of deceased users.

Steve Eder of the Wall Street Journal writes in "Deaths Pose Test for Facebook":
As people's online personas become an increasingly important part of their lives, families and friends are encountering confusion and frustration in trying to manage the Facebook, Twitter and email accounts of their deceased loved ones.
State probate laws, which govern how a deceased's next of kin or estate executor can access things like property and bank accounts, generally weren't designed with today's online lives in mind. So, lawmakers in several states—including Nebraska and Oklahoma—have tried in recent years to tackle the complex question of who can manage the online presence of the deceased, and what legal authority they should have.
The article continues, mentioning that these laws may prove to be largely ineffective, as the social media companies such as Facebook often stick to the terms of their stringent user agreements.  These user agreements generally forbid any information to be provided to anyone but the user.

Facebook's policy is to "put a user's account in a memorialized state-essentially freezing in place the user's content but still allowing friends to leave comments on the user's page.  Immediate family members or next of kin can request an account be terminated, or deleted, which requires...a death certificate."

This issue has been considered by the Uniform Law Commission, which is a national group of lawyers that draft state laws that are intended to be adopted widely by various state legislatures, which proves that "digital assets" or "virtual assets" are becoming more and more important in estate planning each day.

Until some standard law is adopted, the best plan of action is to ensure your digital assets are protected by keeping a list of logins and passwords in a secure location right alongside your estate planning documents such as your will.  This way, your loved ones will be able to either continue the use of your page as a memorial, or close it down per your wishes...if you've thought about what your preference would be in this situation.

Russell C. Golowin is an Elder Law and Estate Planning Attorney for families in the Columbus, Ohio area.  If you haven't already made your wishes known regarding your "digital assets" or haven't yet created your will or power of attorney, call (614) 453-5208 today for a free consultation. Visit his website for more information on wills in Columbus Ohio.
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