What Happens to Your Facebook Account When You Die?
Have you realized how much of your valuable personal information is online, pictures especially? We have ancestor history, banking accounts and details, travel logs, blog posts, and photos all available digitally. All of that digital information needs protection and if you don’t take action you might lose that information because your loved ones cannot access it. If you don’t securely save and share your passwords, when you pass away your digital accounts may become inaccessible to those who may need to gain access on your behalf.
Fortunately, estate planning now addresses the transfer of digital assets following someone’s death. Just like other assets estate planning deals with determining who will give what access to which assets. Before detailing plans to transfer digital assets your first steps should include creating an inventory of all of your accounts and digital assets. This includes your email accounts, social media profiles, and any other business accounts online. Once you have a detailed list of your assets your next step is to file and save the passwords for future access by someone you trust. After passing away these accounts may need to be shut down or protected confidentially and you need to have a designated person with the ability to manage your accounts.
Facebook, for example, may be a profile that needs to be deleted when you pass away or changed to limited visibility and you may be unaware of Facebook’s policy on this.
Facebook automatically memorializes your account upon learning about your death. A memorialized account that does not have a designated legacy contact cannot be changed. No one can log into a memorialized account. Content the deceased person shared such as photos and posts stay on Facebook and are visible to the Facebook audience the content was shared with. Once your account is memorialized it is essentially frozen in time and while people can still post to the account and share memories no one can remove anything unless they are listed as a legacy contact prior to someone’s death. A legacy contact is someone you choose to look after your account if it’s memorialized. A legacy contact still does not have access to remove anything from the account but they can manage it in a number of other ways. Facebook strongly suggests setting a legacy contact so your account can be managed once it’s memorialized. A legacy contact can accept friend requests on behalf of a memorialized account, pin a tribute post to the profile and change the profile picture and cover photo. If the memorialized account has an area for tributes, a legacy contact will be able to decide who can see and who can post tributes.
In cases where someone dies without a designated legacy contact, loved ones and family members of the deceased have no control over a memorialized Facebook profile and that can be extremely unsettling. For example, when Hollie Gazzard was murdered by her boyfriend Asher Maslin, Hollies Facebook profile was memorialized with all those photos of her and Maslin together. Maslin was convicted for life but the photos of him beside Hollie remained all over her Facebook profile. Because of Facebook’s policy and no plan in place for maintaining control of Hollie’s digital asset, the pictures of Hollie and Maslin would not be removed, even at the request of her parents. According to a BBC article on the case, Hollie’s family had started an online petition to get the photos taken down and received more than 11,000 signatures. Eventually a copyright claim was made to Facebook and the photos were removed. It’s unclear who made the copyright claim to Facebook but it was a loophole that ultimately gave the family and friends of Hollie peace.
This was a unique situation as Facebook removed the photos due to copyright law but the tumultuous process could have been prevented with proper planning. An estate planning attorney can assist you with this and ensure your plans for your assets includes the management of your digital assets.
If you need assistance with protecting your assets and would like to create or update an estate plan please do not hesitate to call our office at 626-568-9300.