Estate Planning in the 21st Century
Family photo albums have been replaced by social media profiles like Facebook and Instagram. iTunes playlists have replaced record collections. These "digital assets" can have monetary, as well as sentimental, value. So what happens to these things when you pass on, and how can you control it?
Social Media After DeathSocial media pages can have real financial value, like pages associated with artists, small businesses, etc., and there is the risk losing contact with customers if an owner passes without a proper plan in place. You can state intentions for "digital assets" like your social media profiles in your will; make sure not to list passwords as wills become public record during probate. Consider creating a separate list that is referenced within the document instead.
BUT, BEWARE: Accessing an account that does not belong to you, even if the owner has passed away and gave you their login information, can be illegal depending on social media platform*s terms of service. Each social media platform has their own specific way of handling the accounts of their deceased members.
Facebook allows users to choose options: memorialize account or designate a "Legacy Contact". If no option is chosen, once Facebook is aware of the passing of the person's passing, their account will be memorialized. The Legacy Contact must be a Facebook friend and may maintain the memorialized account or choose for it to be permanently deleted. A memorialized profile and its content will remain visible to those it is shared with and will not show up in searches or "people you may know." Memorialized accounts cannot be changed if no legacy contact is designated. Facebook must be made aware of the account owner's death in order for the account owner's elections to go into effect.
A Legacy Contact can: create a pinned post for your profile, except if your profile settings don't allow others to post on your timeline; request download of content; request removal of your account; update profile picture and cover photo; respond to new friend requests. Legacy cannot: log into your account; see private messages; remove or change past posts, photos or other things shared on your timeline; add a new legacy contact; remove any friends or request any new friends on your behalf. Instagram has a similar process to Facebook.
Twitter, in stark contrast, has one of the toughest processes, and requires someone to complete a form to report the death of user and deactivate the account providing username, death certificate and proof of their identity and relationship to deceased.
Linkedin will close an account if someone can provide basic personal information of the deceased, plus a link to the deceased's obituary, and the name of the company they last worked for.
What About Your Emails?Email accounts may provide copies of email to executor (known as "personal representative" in Florida), but, like with social media profiles, it depends on those terms of service. For example, Yahoo! terms of service provides that an account holder's right to account terminates on death and data can be deleted.
Google allows users to designate an "Inactive account manager." Users can choose when Google deactivates their account -- after 3, 6, 9, or 12 months of inactivity -- and choose for their information to be deleted altogether after that period, or they designate up to 10 people to be notified after that period of time. Those designated by the user will be given a link to download photos, videos, documents, or other data in the account.
Digital Music, Games, Books, and MoreWe think we own our digital music collections. Most people would be shocked to learn that it's usually the case that we have only been granted a license which expires upon death; even with regards to items purchased by the deceased. The major platforms for digital media like iTunes and Google Play have terms of service which provide that digital items (music, games, more), not transferable upon death.