Sixty-Eight percent of Americans use some form of social media. What happens to our photographs, conversation, and videos when we die? Some thought should be given to the digital footprint we leave behind. If you take a look at most wills and trusts drafted in the past few years, you should notice a section giving your Executor or Trustee the right to access, modify, control, archive, transfer, and delete your digital assets. This is a broad power that allows someone you trust to access and close your online accounts. Under E.P.T.L. § 13-A-3.2, court-appointed executors are allowed access to private content information only when a deceased person has authorized such access by an on-line tool or through a record disposing of such assets, such as a Last Will or a Trust.
However, granting the power is only the first step. Your Executor or Trustee must take affirmative steps to wrap up your affairs. You should come up with a digital legacy plan to dictate what should be done with your social media accounts. Our accounts are digital timeliness of our lives “sometimes stretching for decades. Different social media platforms deal with death in different ways. Facebook allows an option for you to choose now whether you want to have your account memorialized or deleted at your death. If you choose a memorial page, your content remains visible to your friends, but the profile will not receive emails, ads or birthday reminders. Facebook also allows you to choose a Legacy Contact, someone to handle your account when you are gone, but bars them from editing your content or reading your messenger conversations. A family member can request a removal but must provide authority, such as given in a Last Will after your death, or Power of Attorney while you are still living. To request a memorialization page, proof of death must be submitted.
Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram have not yet added functions to allow you to control what happens to your account during your lifetime. To request an account be deleted, each of these companies require proof of death and authority under the law. Instagram, like its parent company Facebook, allows for a memorialization account upon proof of death.
If your digital footprint is something you want to control after your death, speak to an estate planning attorney about digital legacy planning.
- Nancy Burner, Esq.