We live in a social media age where almost anything we do can be posted online for others to view. We share personal information ranging from vacation photos to our thoughts and opinions on this year’s Oscar winners. Facebook pages have become the diaries of our lives. Facebook and personal information stored on your Facebook page are not likely to be the first thing that comes to mind when you draft your estate plan, even though for millions of people around the world, it is the first website they visit when they wake up in the morning or when they arrive at work. But what happens to your Facebook profile after you die?
Until now, there have been few options for how to deal with the Facebook account of a loved one who has passed away. A close relative could request that Facebook “memorialize” the account, which locks it forever with the existing content, or one could seek to have Facebook remove the profile completely. Both of these options require an individual to send Facebook some sort of proof of death, such as a death certificate.
Last month, however, Facebook rolled out a new option, called the “legacy contact.” Users can now select a friend or family member who, in the event of their death, will have limited control over several aspects of their profile page. This legacy contact will have the ability to change the decedent’s profile picture and cover photo, create a post that will be pinned to the top of the profile page (for example, a final message from the decedent to all of his friends and family, or an announcement about the upcoming memorial service), and accept any new or pending friend requests.
Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, legacy contacts will be able to download all of the decedent’s posts and photos shared on the site. However, they will not be able to view or that person’s private messages; Facebook has announced that those will continue to be kept private. Nor will a legacy contact be able to log into the decedent’s account, make any edits to content the decedent previously posted, or remove/block any of the decedent’s friends.
One of the hidden effects of memorializing a profile through a legacy contact is that the decedent’s birthday is no longer visible to the decedent’s friends through public birthday reminders. This effect provides an additional layer of protection for friends and family concerned about reopening an old wound on a day they already closely associate with the loved one they have lost.
To set your own legacy contact, go to your Settings page, select “Security,” and then “Legacy Contact” at the bottom of the page. This system gives you the option of notifying that person that you have selected them as your legacy contact. Legacy contacts are currently only available in the United States, although Facebook has stated its intention to expand the service to other countries in the future.
Your Facebook page is how you present yourself to others online; why not have it continue to celebrate your life after death? From social media to Social Security, no matter what assets you seek to protect, the experienced attorneys at Chepenik Trushin LLP are here to help you with all of your estate planning and probate needs.