They say the only certainties in life are death and taxes. Living forever in some kind of suspended animation is left for science fiction movies and paperbacks. However, thanks to the proliferation of somewhat addictive social media sites, your personal information may live on through the internet long after you are no longer around to manage it. This creates an interesting conundrum for estate planning attorneys who are tasked with making sure their clients’ affairs are all wrapped up and handled how they desire when they have passed on. As a result, social media Wills are becoming an important estate planning tool.
Just imagine, your friend or relative passes away and, after a period of grieving, life moves on. But, just as you are coming to terms with your loss, you get an automated birthday announcement from their Facebook account or request from their Twitter feed. Kind of spooky, no? And what about your email, bank account and other important online passwords? How will your loved ones know what they should do to manage your accounts or cancel your subscriptions?
The government, recognizing that social media is a part of daily life, has even issued instructions on how to create a social media will on the USA.gov personal finance and estate planning site. They suggest you appoint someone you trust as an online executor, who will be responsible for the closure of your email addresses, social media profiles, and blogs after you are deceased.
I always include a packet for my clients to fill out in their estate plan that includes spaces for online information and other important accounts their loved ones should know about after they are gone. For a comprehensive social media will you should 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 the social media 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 online executor should have a copy of your death certificate. The online executor may need this as proof in order for websites to take any actions on your behalf.
The world is changing and your estate plan has to keep up in order to properly serve you and your loved ones. It’s never too soon to get your virtual affairs in order, and a review of your current estate plan might be a good place to start.