Leslie A. Farber
Who Inherits Your Social Media Accounts?
Have you ever thought about what would happen to your #socialmediaaccounts if
you passed away?
While end-of-life preparation is important from a financial, physical and emotional
standpoint, many individuals are unlikely to consider including their #Facebook or
#Twitter accounts in the estate planning process. However, ignoring your social
media accounts may have serious consequences. Beyond the sentimental value
they hold for family and friends, these accounts may be vulnerable to exploitation
by hackers who can sell your information or launch cyber-attacks on your online
According to a recent report, approximately 8,000 Facebook users pass away
each day, the equivalent of 428 users every hour. While cyberspace is filled with
active social media accounts of deceased users, more and more people are
taking measures to ensure that their digital legacy is handled properly.
Securing your social media accounts begins with considering whether you want
them to remain active after you die and, if so, who will manage them. The most
popular social media services have processes in place that allow users to
preemptively specify what they want to happen to their accounts upon their
Facebook gives you the choice to appoint a legacy contact to look after
your memorialized account or have your account permanently deleted
after you pass away. Memorialized accounts feature the word
“Remembering” next to the person's name on their profile and friends can
share memories on the timeline. Facebook encourages users to set a
legacy contact so their memorialized accounts can be managed.
Instagram will memorialize the account of a deceased person upon receipt
of a valid request. The site tries to prevent references to memorialized
accounts from appearing in ways that may be upsetting to the person's
friends and family.
Twitter will work with a person authorized to act on behalf of the deceased
person’s estate or with a verified immediate family member to deactivate
the user’s account. The person must provide an ID and a copy of the
Pinterest also deactivates accounts of deceased users upon receiving a
copy of the death certificate.
With the exception of a Facebook legacy contact, none of these sites allow
anyone to access a deceased user’s account, no matter what their relationship.
Therefore, it is important to plan what aspects of your digital identity, such as
usernames and passwords, you want to share with family or friends.
This also applies to other online websites or applications that make up your
#digitalfootprint, such as email, bank and healthcare accounts and online
shopping sites. You might want to consider providing only essential details
regarding online financial services and other types of sensitive accounts. Avoid
sharing passwords explicitly in your will, as wills are a matter of public record.
In the absence of specific regulations on digital inheritance, social media services
can ultimately decide what happens to a user’s data after they die and are free to
change their terms of service at any time. Over the years, individuals have had
to fight to access a deceased person’s online accounts and a recent court ruling
in Germany confirmed that heirs have the right to access a loved one’s social
The United States has no clear court ruling on #digitalinheritance, so without a will
a court could decide who inherits your data as well as your physical assets.
Whether or not your heirs can gain access to your accounts depends on certain
state laws that deal directly with digital inheritance. To date, only a handful of
states have adopted legislation such as the Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets
Act (FADA), which guarantees individuals the right to transfer digital possessions
legally. At least 20 states have passed or are considering revised versions of the
law and more are expected to follow.
As online accounts have gained importance in our lives, so has the need to
include in your will instructions for handling your digital data after death. Contact
our office at 973-509-8500 x213 or LFarber@LFarberLaw.com for expert advice
and assistance with this and all of your estate planning concerns.
The contents of this writing are intended for general information purposes only
and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion in any specific facts or