In today’s digital age, our lives are increasingly lived online. We share our thoughts, photos, and experiences with friends and followers on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. But what happens to these accounts after we pass away? Do they simply disappear, or do they live on forever?
In this blog post, we’ll explore the topic of virtual afterlife and what you can do to plan for the future of your social media accounts.
Why Does Virtual Afterlife Matter?
While it may seem trivial to some, our social media accounts can hold a significant amount of personal information and memories. They may contain photos of loved ones, important life events, and conversations with friends and family. Losing access to these accounts can be devastating for those left behind.
In addition, our social media accounts can continue to exist long after we pass away, potentially causing confusion or even distress for those who stumble upon them. Imagine receiving notifications about job anniversaries on LinkedIn, birthday reminders on Facebook, or friend requests from a deceased loved one? Dealing with the emotional tsunami of losing a loved one is one of the most difficult things we have to do in our lives, and the last thing we need is some online algorithm adding to the grief.
What Happens to Social Media Accounts When We Die?
The policies regarding social media accounts after death vary from platform to platform. Some platforms, such as Facebook, allow for accounts to be memorialized, which means that the account remains visible but can no longer be updated. Other platforms, such as Twitter, require a court order to access or delete the account of a deceased user.
In general, social media companies require proof of death before taking any action on an account. This may require a death certificate or other legal documentation.
Planning Your Virtual Afterlife
To ensure that your social media accounts are handled according to your wishes after you pass away, it’s important to plan ahead. (Making sure everything you own is handled according to your wishes if you’re incapacitated or after you pass away requires planning ahead – just a reminder from your friendly neighborhood estate planning attorney!) Here are some steps you can take:
- Make a list of all your social media accounts and login information. Keep this information in a secure location that your loved ones can access after you pass away.
- If you prefer to use digital tools instead of pen and paper, some password management software programs do allow you to designate someone to access your account in the event of your death or incapacity.
- Some offer a feature called “Emergency Access” or “Emergency Contact” which allows you to designate one or more trusted contacts who can access your account in case of emergency. You can choose to give them immediate access, or to wait for a predetermined period of time before granting them access.
- It’s important to note that not all password management software programs offer this feature, and the process for designating someone to access your account can vary depending on the software. And it should go without saying, it’s important to ensure that the designated person is trustworthy and capable of managing your digital assets according to your wishes.
- Decide what you want to happen to your social media accounts after you pass away. Do you want them to be deleted, memorialized, or left as-is? Make your wishes known to your digital executor and loved ones.
- Work with an estate planning attorney who not only understands the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act, but actively includes it in all pertinent planning documents. (We do! But I rarely see it in others’ trust instruments).
Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act
The Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (RUFADAA – “roo-FA-dah”) is a law that addresses the issue of how to manage and access digital assets after an individual passes away or becomes incapacitated (Note: California’s RUFADAA does not provide guidance for incapacity. While it allows for RUFADAA powers to be valid in Powers of Attorney, when listing documents that may be required by service providers, it lists death certificates but not physician’s determination of incapacity).
Digital assets can include anything from social media accounts and email addresses to online banking and investment accounts. Without clear legal guidelines in place, it can be difficult for fiduciaries, such as executors, trustees, and agents, to access and manage these assets on behalf of the account holder.
Under RUFADAA, account holders can provide instructions for how they want their digital assets to be managed after they pass away or become incapacitated. Users may designate in their estate planning documents a person who is authorized to manage their digital assets in the event of their death. The law also allows for online tools provided by the service providers to be used to manage digital assets.
Fiduciaries who are granted access to digital assets under RUFADAA must follow certain guidelines. They are required to act in the best interest of the account holder and are held to the same standard of care as other fiduciaries. They must also follow any instructions or limitations that the account holder has put in place.
One of the key features of RUFADAA is that it provides a way for fiduciaries to access digital assets without violating federal privacy laws. Service providers are required to comply with the law and allow access to fiduciaries when appropriate. This helps to ensure digital assets are managed in a way that is consistent with the account holder’s wishes and protects their privacy.
Our lives are increasingly lived online, and it’s important to consider what will happen to our digital assets after we pass away. By planning ahead and taking the necessary steps to manage our social media accounts, we can ensure that our virtual afterlife is handled according to our wishes.