Who Gets Your Facebook, email and Twitter Accounts after you die? Will your privacy be maintained? Will your accounts be accessible by those you chose?
That E-Life after death question is growing more urgent as millions move to the internet for finances, personal development, and intimate communications.
The law determines how the property you have accumulated over a lifetime is distributed after your death. But social media, such as Twitter, and email and Facebook accounts, are so new the courts have not yet developed rules. So if your social media possessions are valuable, you need to take steps to make sure your secrets don’t follow you to the grave.
For the growing number of Americans who spend more time in front of their computers or grasping their mobile devices, the legacy of virtual life is growing in significance. Many people now keep all their important documents on their computers, and no longer keep paper records. People need to think about what they want to happen to their virtual assets, and that depends on knowledge of PINs, user IDs, and passwords. Wills need to include directions for these virtual assets. Some have suggested writing down all access codes and phrases, placing them in a safe deposit box, and providing access to a trusted friend or relative.
If the law doesn’t say what happens to twitter accounts, Flickr photo albums, Facebook profiles, YouTube videos, who does? According to a roundup in an Australian publication, the policies vary.
No transfer is allowed by Yahoo and a user’s rights to their Yahoo! ID and contents terminate at death. Once Yahoo! receives a death certificate, it terminates the account and deletes all contents permanently.
Once a death has been verified, Facebook will memorialize the account and allow posts in remembrance. When an account is
deactivated, the profile disappears.
Accounts deactivated by Twitter public tweets are no longer available. Data is generally deleted after 30 days.
Google may provide access to the Gmail account content of a deceased user in rare instances. A death warrant is required.
Microsoft will place all Hotmail emails and attachments, address book and contact list on a DVD and ship to the next of kin, after receiving proof of a family member’s death and of the relationship.
The fact is that normal estate planning hasn’t developed easy ways to handle a person’s valuable
“digital assets” such as email accounts, websites, social networking profiles and online store
“If I died tomorrow, my heirs would be hard‐pressed to recover the hundred or so
dollars left in my I‐tunes and pay pal accounts and more importantly, the precious mementos of
my life such as the pictures located in my snapfish.com account and the messages in my gmail
account,” one estate planning lawyer acknowledged.
Account providers, of course, are limited by a myriad of state and federal privacy laws governing what they can and cannot disclose.
If you are wealthy enough, have your estate planning attorney a list all computer passwords, all relevant information regarding his digital assets, and the names and
contact information of the individuals with whom this information should be shared. Keeping the information current is another story.
For the rest of us, here’s some advice that costs less to follow: List all the electronic information and accounts with login details, passwords, and key numbers on a sheet of paper. Cut the page in half and give each page to a trusted friend or relative.