Attorney Jay Andrew is a founding partner of Drost, Gilbert, Andrew & Apicella, LLC, and we share this article with his kind permission. He is a graduate of the University of Dayton School of Law and has been practicing in estate planning, probate, trust administration, real estate law, residential/ commercial leasing, contracts, and civil litigation. Since 2005, Jay has been a Chair of the Mock Trial Committee for the Annual Northwest Suburban Bar Association High School Mock Trial Invitation which serves over 240 local Illinois students each year.
The use of social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter allows people to stay connected with family and friends (and, in some cases, complete strangers) from around the world. One very important issue with these platforms is access to the account after the person who created the account dies. Both Facebook and Twitter have policies addressing this issue. Instructions on how these accounts should be managed after death can be included in an individual’s estate plan.
Facebook has become a very popular platform, allowing users to post pictures and status updates for friends and family members to view. Because many people use Facebook to post personal information, it is often very important to make plans for how the account will be managed after the account creator dies.
Under Facebook policy, users can choose whether they would like to pass the information and account management to someone else upon their death. This option can be found under the security settings. Facebook describes this process as designating a person to be a “legacy contact.” After Facebook is notified of the person’s death, the person’s timeline will change to inform other users that the person is deceased (by adding “remembering” before the person’s name).
The legacy contact must be a Facebook user. Designating someone as a legacy contact allows that person to accept friend requests, create postings, and change the profile and cover photo. Further, it also allows access to a downloadable archive of the user’s Facebook information, such as pictures and postings.
Users may also request Facebook to completely delete the account upon their death or, as an alternative to deleting the account or designating a legacy contact, a user can simply do nothing. If a user chooses to do nothing, the account continues and all current rules existing at the time of the person’s death apply to the account.
While information posted to Twitter is often less personal in nature than information posted to Facebook, it is still important to think about and plan for what will happen to an account after death.
For Twitter users, an account will be deactivated if Twitter is contacted by a family member or a person authorized to act on behalf of the estate. The person will need a copy of the death certificate. Importantly, Twitter policy requires a “brief description of the details that evidence this account belongs to the deceased.” Twitter included the statement because many users do not use their actual names in the creation of the account. After 30 days, the deactivated account is permanently deleted. The page for family members to contact Twitter about a deceased individual’s account can be found here.
Most people find thinking about issues relating to their death difficult and uncomfortable. But, as the use of social media continues to expand, it is important to consider what will happen to your accounts upon your death. For more information about the management of your digital accounts, including how these issues can be addressed as part of your will, speak with an experienced Illinois estate planning attorney. Our firm represents individuals throughout the northwest suburbs, including areas such as Arlington Heights and Rolling Meadows.