Facebook Debuts “Legacy Contact” Feature
The lives of Americans, including Georgians, have become increasingly digital. That means a lot more of our assets are based on ones and zeroes and they are not entirely tangible, at least by the traditional definition. Increasingly, our digital assets are located elsewhere, outside of our possession and control, such as those we create online. Unfortunately, the law hasn't kept with our technological reality, and estate planners all over the country, including those in the Atlanta region, are trying to advise clients on how to deal with these digital assets when they die or become incapacitated.
If you're typical, you have more digital assets than you probably realize. Such assets can include apps, ebooks, music, movies, smartphone or computer apps, photos, and even hosting accounts and social media accounts. Your estate planner can help make sure that the only person who can access and maintain your digital assets when you leave this mortal coil is someone you choose and trust.
In recent years, the question of what happens to a Facebook profile when someone dies has received a lot of attention and the company has finally responded to many of the biggest concerns. Previously, those associated with the deceased, including family members and executors, were allowed two choices. They could either keep the account public, so everyone could continue to post messages and thoughts, or they could ask that the page be “memorialized,” which made the profile not searchable or visible to those who were not already friends of the deceased. The choice no one had was to allow someone, including the deceased's designee, to manage the profile for the deceased owner. A spouse or other family member could not access the account without having the password and express permission to use it. That means loved ones and executors were unable to accept new friend requests, place information about memorial services on the profile or update pictures.
Thankfully, that all changed last month, when Facebook rolled out its new "Legacy Contact" feature. All Facebook users can now choose a legacy contact; someone who will be able to manage their account when they die or become incapacitated. They also have the option of making sure Facebook deletes their account immediately upon notification of their passing.
It's now completely up to the decedent what happens to their Facebook account at the end. They can designate the legacy contact to let Facebook know of their passing, and Facebook memorialize the account and allow the legacy contact will be able to write posts on a memorialized timeline, respond to friend requests, update the profile and cover photos. As long as the account's owner gives consent, they will also be able to download an archive of the photos, posts and profile information they shared on Facebook. All other settings will remain the same as it was before the account was memorialized. The legacy contact will be unable to log in as the decedent and see any private messages to or from that person.
This is an important change to Facebook that everyone should consider as part of the estate planning process. Let your estate planning lawyer know what you have done, whether you decide to appoint a legacy contact or you just decide to shut it all down at the end.