Estate Planning and Social Media: What Happens to Your Accounts?
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If you’re like most people, you’ve probably shared a lot of personal information on social media. Whether it’s photos of your last vacation or an update about the restaurant you just visited, the information you’ve posted on the Internet will be available for years to come—which is why it’s important to consider your social media accounts in your estate planning.
What does happen to your social media accounts when you die? It depends on the state in which you live and the conditions you outline in your will. Recently, 12 states introduced legislation that would help personal representatives, such as family, friends, and executors, gain access to a deceased person’s digital assets. In addition, seven states have already passed laws governing how a person’s digital assets are handled after they die.
In order to protect and pass on your social media assets, you may want to include a social media will as part of your estate plan. To start drafting yours, you will want to do the following:
Appoint an online executor. Just as you appoint a person to handle your postmortem affairs in a traditional will, you can appoint someone to handle all of your online information. The person that you select as the executor of your digital assets would be responsible for closing or deactivating your email accounts, social media profiles, media sharing platforms, forums, and blogs, as well as any other online accounts you may have.
Review the policies and the terms and conditions of each site. Each website on which you have a presence will have its own privacy policies and terms and conditions for a deceased person. A quick way to find this information is to go to the home page of the website. Normally, at the bottom of this page you will find links for help, terms and conditions, and privacy information.
You can also try going to the help section and typing “death” into the search field. Usually the search results will yield information on how the account may be handled after a user’s death.
Outline how you want your online accounts to be handled. You might not want to cancel all of your profiles immediately. There are some sites that will allow users to create a memorial profile, and that might be important for family and friends who want to visit those sites. Include specific instructions as to how you want your online executor to handle each of your online accounts (whether you want the accounts cancelled or you want other people to be able to continue to post on your pages, for example).
Compile your usernames and passwords. You will need to provide your online executor a list of the websites on which you have profiles, along with the usernames and passwords for each. Keep in mind that you need to select someone you really trust because he or she will have access to all of those accounts—even before your death. You also want to ensure that your executor will receive a copy of your death certificate, as he or she may need it to do anything with your social media accounts.
There are two unavoidable aspects of life—death and taxes—and social media is quickly becoming just as inescapable. Drafting a social media will can help ensure that the right people get access to these accounts after your death.
Steve Repak, CFP®, is the author of Dollars & Uncommon Sense: Basic Training for Your Money.
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