Some say dying is a part of life – and your social media accounts suggest so. It’s just one of those small details that most people don’t think about much. Who owns my account? How will it be retired (if at all)? And why should my business or family care? And who the heck is in charge of my digital asset management when I’m gone?
Emotional issues often outweigh the practical ones (including the potential for a deceased person’s account getting hacked).
But mostly, it’s just disconcerting to see the online albums and histories of people who’ve passed away as their profiles still linger in social media (not to mention their final words). This recently happened to me when writing an obit at a client’s request. It was clear the family was unaware of a social media account and, when told, did not have access to the family member’s password information to remove it.
Worse, I’ve seen several cases where a college student has died and the immediate family has no clue how to get into those accounts or close them out. As traditional media often quote those last social media posts as well, especially for those who die in unusual circumstances, it can be particularly devastating to a family.
Just as we worry about the afterlife of our social accounts, there are those who are also ready to capitalize on the same — such as LivesOn, a service that promises to learn your social syntax then automatically continue on after you’re gone.
“When your heart stops beating, you’ll keep tweeting” reads the tagline for LivesOn, which promises to maintain your “social afterlife.” According to Huff Post, several thousand people have registered for the service, started by a London advertising agency.
Stunts aside, the issue is a touchy one and few states seem to have digital asset laws governing your online social accounts.
In Oregon, a woman who lost all access to her son’s Facebook after he died in an accident tried to convince the legislature to change the law so relatives could gain access. A lifetime of memories, photos and more were wiped out for her when Facebook eventually deleted the account telling her she had no rights to it.
Tech lobbyists argue that both a 1986 federal law and voluntary terms of service agreements prohibit companies from sharing a person’s information — even if such a request were included in a last will and testament. For a primer, you can read up on the Stored Communications Act, which many say is woefully out of date considering that algorithms and bots can keep your online persona chugging on social.
For those wanting legal advice, best to discuss in your estate planning (and hopefully your lawyer will know what you’re talking about).
A few quick steps should save your family and colleagues some additional grief as they sort out succession plans and estate issues.
Compile your important data, online accounts, and digital property in a written list or electronic list stored in various locations – smartphone, computer, online account, the cloud, etc.
Keep your list(s) current especially as you change and update passwords.
And make sure your estate plan appoints someone who can act on digital accounts.
If you’re looking for something simple, Google allows you to transfer data to your executor via an option called Inactive Account Manager. Other services such as Legacy Locker, highlighted in U.S. News and World Report, offer a paid or “freemium” service, which covers three digital accounts.
Seem simple enough? If you think so, share our tips with the hashtag #KyleSpeak and add a few RIP tips of your own.