According to the Pew Internet Research Center, 62 percent of American adults use Facebook (and as this statistic was current as of September 2014, that number may be even higher now). These are not just young adults, but older ones. Sixty-four percent of those ages 50 to 64 and 48 percent of those 65 and older are on Facebook. Many get accounts so they can see photographs of their grandchildren or get back in touch with friends from high school.

If you have a Facebook account, what happens to everything you’ve written and posted on your account after your death? Does it continue on? What about Twitter? We’ve all seen stories about the last tweets posted by a celebrity, trying to decipher what they mean. And what happens to all the information you have saved in our e-mail accounts that are only accessible online? There may be a lot of information in your e-mail accounts that your heirs may need to access after your death. This could include old bills, utility information, or information about online accounts with monthly automatic billing.

Fortunately, most websites that require a log-in account have developed policies to handle this issue at this point.

How Facebook Handles Death

For many years now, Facebook has offered a static “memorialized account” for users who died, in which profiles remained as they did at the time of the user’s death.  After a 2015 redesign, memorial accounts have “Remembering” above the decedent’s name. Users can continue to comment on the memorial account, often posting birthday wishes or favorite memories.

The 2015 redesign also allowed users to appoint a legacy contact.” After Facebook is informed of a user’s death, the appointed legacy contact can download and archive the deceased user’s posts, profile information, and photographs. The contact cannot login as the person who died nor may they view private messages.

Users can also opt to have their Facebook account permanently deleted. You can find out more about how to tell Facebook about your wishes for after death on their FAQ page “Planning for your Digital Legacy.” Most other social media and e-mail websites – including TwitterInstagram, and Google (covering YouTube and Gmail) –  have similar policies in place for what to do with an account after the user’s death.

What needs to be in your will?

Facebook states in their FAQs that they may provide accession to certain usually private information (including messages, ads you clicked, pokes, security and settings info, and photos automatically synched but not posted) “in response to a valid will or other legal consent document expressing clear consent.” If you’d like your heirs to be able to access this information, you’ll need to talk to a wills and trusts attorney to ensure that such statements are included in your will and witnessed properly.

Make sure you state in your will who you’d like to have access to social media accounts and e-mail accounts and how you’d like these accounts to be handled. This “social media executor” needs to be someone who you trust and are comfortable enough to go through the contents of your inbox. Make sure that your will states that your online executor should receive a copy of your death certificate so he/she may give proof of your death to any websites that require it.

Contact Us for Help

Do you have questions about estate planning in Washington? Don’t hesitate to reach out to attorney Dan Kellogg for professional assistance with your case. Contact or call our office in Kent at (425) 227-8700 for help today.