When was the last time you “unplugged” and were completely disconnected from the Internet? Do you think you could live “off the grid” for a day? A week? A month?
If you’re reading this, there’s a large probability that you use the Internet every single day. Chances are, you Google everything. Which means that somehow, some way, you’ve got social media. Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Apple, some sort of Blog site, definitely an email address. The list goes on. What happens to social media/email accounts when you die? (That’s why you’re here). I’m going to break down your options on these sites, and then I’m going to discuss how your estate plan could impact your digital legacy.
Facebook allows you to select another Facebook user and allow such user to manage your profile upon proof of your death. It’s called a “Legacy Contact” and a legacy contact is essentially someone you select via Facebook to manage your account once you die. The Legacy Contact is able to pin a post on your Timeline, respond to new friend requests and update your profile picture. The Legacy Contact cannot post comments or statuses as you or see your messages. Personally, my sister is my Legacy Contact.
When a Twitter user dies, Twitter will work with a person authorized to act on behalf of the estate (i.e. Executive, Administrator, or Personal Representative) or with a verified immediate family member in order to have the account deactivated. Twitter provides a form for the removal of the account of a deceased user. The submission of such form is accompanied by a copy of the authorized person’s identification as well as a copy of the death certificate of the deceased user. Twitter then reviews the request to prevent false or unauthorized reports. However, regardless of an individual’s relationship to the deceased, Twitter will not provide account access.
Apple provides the following “No Right of Survivorship” clause in their legal page:
“You agree that your Account is non-transferable and that any rights to your Apple ID or Content within your Account terminate upon your death. Upon receipt of a copy of a death certificate your Account may be terminated and all Content within your Account deleted. Contact iCloud Support at www.apple.com/support/icloud for further assistance.”
Apple made the news in 2016 by not providing a widow with her late husband’s Apple ID & Password absent a court order. If you’ve amassed a large digital library during your lifetime, this can cause an incredible headache. It would appear that on paper that your digital assets wind up in the grave with you. The easiest way to ensure that your family has access to your account upon your death, is to make sure your account information is disclosed to a trusted family member.
Google and Microsoft have a policy of holding your data after death and allowing your next of kin or executor gain access to said accounts. These companies also archive the messages you’ve written as well as received. When it comes to deleting the data, Microsoft’s Hotmail will remove an account if it is inactive for 270 days (that’s about 9 months!). Google’s Gmail, on the other hand, leaves the responsibility of removing the account to the next of kin. Of the top three providers, only Yahoo! refuses to supply emails to anyone after a user has died. The user’s next of kin can ask for the account to be closed, but the next of kin cannot gain access to it. The only exception to this rule according to a Yahoo! spokesperson would be if the user specified otherwise in his or her will.
Planning Through Your Estate Plan
It’s important to view your social media accounts as digital assets. A proper estate plan in today’s ever-changing world will provide provisions regarding how these digital assets will be handled upon your death. Fortunately, Heritage Law Firm can provides provisions for digital assets in your estate plan.