Estate Planning with Facebook?

by Matthew Karr, Esq. on February 10, 2014

Estate planning is often something we relate to wills, trusts and other serious money matters. However, with the proliferation of social media sites and the impact our online interactions can have on those we love, more people are beginning to consider their online presence as something worth planning for as well. A perfect example of why this may be a good idea hit the news wire recently after an unassuming video appeal from a grieving father got the attention of social media giant, Facebook.

John Berlin, of Arnold, Missouri, didn’t really expect anyone to listen when he posted a video clip on Youtube, pleading with Facebook to help him access his recently deceased son’s Facebook page. The son, Jessie, had died at just 21 years old and John was desperate to hold on to any piece of him that he could get.

With so many pictures, quotes and life milestones immortalized online these days this is certainly understandable. We hardly see physical photo albums anymore, and without access to online files, precious memories could be lost forever to loved ones locked out of your online world.

Well, after more than 1.2 million views and 4,500 comments on his video, John got Facebook’s attention. A company representative, who had seen the video, contacted him and assisted in getting him access to Jessie’s page. Facebook noted, however, that assisting large numbers of people with such concerns would not be possible and that this was an unusual case. (Full story here.)

The world is changing and your estate plan has to keep up in order to properly serve you and your loved ones. To get your virtual affairs in order, I suggest clients consider the following:
• Review the privacy policies and the terms and conditions of each website where you have a presence.
• State how you would like your profiles to be handled. You may want to completely cancel your profile or keep it up for friends and family to visit. Some sites allow users to create a memorial profile where other users can still see your profile but can’t post anything new.
• Give your executor a document that lists all the websites where you have a profile, along with your usernames and passwords.
• Stipulate in your will that the executor should have a copy of your death certificate. They executor may need this as proof in order for websites to take any actions on your behalf.

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