Facebook’s “Legacy Contact” Feature A Positive Step to Address Control of Digital Assets After Death
Facebook recently announced it would allow you to designate a friend or family member to be your Facebook “executor” to manage your account after death. Effective February 12, 2015, Facebook users in the United States are able to choose a “legacy contact” to make one last Facebook post on their behalf following their death. The contact can respond to new friend requests, update the cover photo and profile and archive your Facebook posts and photos. Previously, when family or friends notified Facebook that a user had died, Facebook verified the death and “memorialized” the account, meaning the account could be viewed but it could not be edited or managed in any way. Based upon numerous requests, Facebook initiated the “legacy contact” option to allow family members who wanted to post funeral information or download and preserve photos.
Facebook users can go into a feature under “settings” to choose a legacy contract to manage the account, opt to have the account deleted permanently after death or do nothing. Once Facebook is notified of a death and confirms it, Facebook will add the tagline “remembering” over the users name and notify the legacy contact, who will not be able to log in as the person who died or view the person’s private settings, but at least preserve the photos and notify others which is a step in the right direction to deal with the digital assets of a deceased person.
A small minority of states has state specific laws governing authority over digital assets, but Pennsylvania is not one of them. A uniform law has been recommended by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws called the Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (“UFADAA”), but that has not been adopted in Pennsylvania. So, until there is a unified process and mechanism to deal with a deceased family member’s digital assets in Pennsylvania, including changing of passwords, the legacy contact option is the best alternative.
Nevertheless, in order to augment the existing type of limited control over digital assets following death, for those of you with social media accounts, such as Facebook, Yahoo, Twitter, Snapchat, or Google, online banking accounts, or those of you that store music and photos on your computer or in the “cloud”, we suggest you retain a list of your access information and passwords, properly secure that access information, ensure that your agent or executor has access to that information, advise your agent and executor of what your wishes are, and ensure that your agent and executor are specifically authorized to so access and control that information under your Power of Attorney, if you become disabled, and under your Will, if you die. So, in this digital age, you need to make plans to deal with digital assets in your estate plan. If you fail to do so, your family members, heirs, or other representatives may not be able to access those assets without going to court and will most certainly face more difficulty and incur more expense in dealing with your digital assets.