The New Facebook Legacy Contact Feature & Estate Planning For Digital Assets and Social Media

It wasn’t very long ago that we had only paper for financial and tax records. We could simply point to a file cabinet or drawer and tell someone, “Everything is in there when the time comes.” But now we have computers and the internet, and so much of our lives is online. Unless we include our digital assets and social media in our estate planning, our family or administrator may not be able to find critical documents.

For example, if you scan documents or receive financial statements electronically, someone else may not even know these exist. If you use a program like Quicken or Quickbooks and tax preparation software, those records are on your computer. Facebook pages, blogs, email accounts and photos stored digitally on a computer or an online account would certainly have special meaning to your family.

Much of this information is password protected. Unless we make arrangements in advance, family members or administrators may not be able to access these and the information could be lost forever.

Hopefully, more social media platforms and institutions that generate digital content will follow the recent action that Facebook has taken.

Facebook just rolled out its Facebook Legacy Contact feature – it allows any Facebook user to designate a family member or friend to manage his or her account if he or she should pass away.

Below is how Facebook describes this new feature:

What is a legacy contact?

A legacy contact is someone you choose to look after your account if it’s memorialized. Once your account is memorialized, your legacy contact will have the option to do things like:

  • Write a pinned post for your profile (ex: to share a final message on your behalf or provide information about a memorial service)
  • Respond to new friend requests (ex: old friends or family members who weren’t yet on Facebook)
  • Update your profile picture and cover photo

You also have the option to allow your legacy contact to download a copy of what you’ve shared on Facebook, and we may add additional capabilities for legacy contacts in the future.

Your legacy contact can’t:

  • Log into your account
  • Remove or change past posts, photos and other things shared on your Timeline
  • Read messages you’ve sent to other friends
  • Remove any of your friends

This is a very responsible action by Facebook. In the past, family members and friends struggled with the Facebook accounts of deceased users because the social media giant would not allow anyone but the user to access the account. This caused lots of heartache and grief for loved ones.

Estate planning for digital assets and social media accounts is similar to estate planning for other assets. You need to make a list of what you have and where it is located, name someone (with computer and social media know-how) to step in for you, provide that person with access, and provide some direction for what you want to happen to these assets.

Listing your digital assets by category (hardware, software, social media/online presence, online accounts) will help make the task less daunting. Next to each one, add user names, passwords, PIN numbers and the site’s domain name. Keep this list in a safe place and tell your successor where it is. (Do not store it unprotected on your computer; if it is stolen, the thief would have all of your passwords. If you store it on your computer, password protect the file and give that information to your successor.)

Think about what you want to happen to these assets. For example, if you have a website or blog and you want it to continue, you need to leave instructions for keeping it up or having someone take it over and continue it. If a site is currently producing or could produce income (e-books, photography, videos, blogs), make sure your successor knows this. If there are things on your computer or hard drive that you want to pass on (scanned family photos, ancestry research, a book you have been writing), put them in a “Do Not Delete” folder and include it on your inventory list.

Closing down accounts that are no longer needed will help to protect your family from identity theft after you are gone. The person you name as your successor will need a death certificate to do this. Consider naming this person as a co-trustee or co-executor with responsibilities limited to this area to give them legal authority to act for you.

Yes, this will take some time and thought. But, just like “other” estate planning, the more we can do now to put things in order, the easier it will be for our families later.


Babies, Hospitals, and The Living Will

Last week my wife and I were temporarily living at children’s hospital with my 18 month old. She had a spell of the stomach virus that’s going around and she needed I.V. fluids for a few days to rehydrate because she could not keep anything down. She’s fine now. The virus ran its course and she’s back to chasing the dog and writing with crayon on the white furniture.

The reason I’m sharing this is because when I was filling out the hospital paperwork, there was a checkbox for “do you have a living will.” Obviously an 18 month old is not going to have that document, but the point here is that this has become a standard question from medical providers. So standard that it is even in use at the Children’s Hospital where most of the patients are under 18.

So, what is a Living Will and what does it do?

A Living Will applies when a person’s medical condition becomes irreversible and terminal. It is a declaration stating that if one is in a persistent vegetative state with no hope of regaining consciousness, then in such event he or she refuses artificially life-prolonging measures which serve only to prolong the process of dying (such as feeding tubes and respirators – pain killers are still administered). The intent expressed by the individual making the Living Will is that he or she wishes to die naturally. Below is actual language from a Living Will:

“For this declaration to take effect, my attending physician must determine that there can be no recovery from my terminal or vegetative condition, and that either my death is imminent or I can no longer experience a meaningful life.”

Many people remember the case of Terry Schiavo. Terry suffered extreme brain damage and became comatose. Her condition was found to be permanently vegetative with no hope of regaining consciousness. She was incapacitated and unable to survive without a feeding tube. Her husband, as her legal guardian, battled with her family for 15 years in the courts to allow Terry to die naturally. This became global news and a lead case in the estate planning arena. But here’s the thing most people don’t remember about Terry. She was 26 years old when she became incapacitated.

Key takeaways:
• Living Wills are for everyone over 18 – the leading cases in this area are mostly people in their 20’s
• Medical providers ranging from hospitals to primary physicians are now requesting this document as a standard question on intake forms.
• Living Wills are not standard forms and you should speak to an attorney specializing in this area to draft a Living Will that is consistent with your beliefs