Social Media Assets Require Social Media Estate Planning

Have you ever thought of what happens to these assets when you die or become incapacitated? What happens to your email accounts? Can your messages, postings, and photographs be saved or shared? Who will have access to them?
Long gone are the days of keeping handwritten letters, notes, and boxes of photographs. Now, more and more people hold their communications and photographs in digital format online. Therefore, you not only need to plan for your hard tangible assets, but you must also plan for your online digital assets, which include your social media accounts.

How to Plan for Your Online Social Media Assets:

  1. Create an Inventory. Know where you stand and what you have. Create an inventory of all of your online accounts and social media assets. Where do you have an online presence? Make a list of these websites, your usernames, PINS, passwords, and security questions and answers.
  2. Identify an Agent. Identify who you want to handle these accounts upon your passing or incapacity. This person can be the Personal Representative you’ve appointed under your Will or the Attorney-in-Fact you’ve appointed in your Power of Attorney or someone else whom you name. Regardless of who you name, it is important that they know that they have been chosen to handle these matters for you.
  3. Give that Agent Authority and Direction. Make sure you give your agent copies of the documentation appointing him or her as your agent, and importantly the authorization to obtain your death certificate upon your passing.  Make sure that your agent knows what your assets are and where to find them. You can keep the inventory and your directions with your estate plan or directly in your Will. However, both of these carry risks.  Another option therefore, is to appoint the individual agent, while leaving your specific directions directly with the agent, including telling them where they can find the most up-to-date inventory list and your directions.
  4. Options, Generally. In a perfect world, you would read every set of Terms of Use and Service for every online account and social media asset you have, but the reality is that you probably don’t. Thus, without knowing the specifics of what is and what is not permitted by these online social media companies, you can only make general requests and directions on what is to happen upon your passing.

Email Accounts, Generally.

For your email accounts, determine what you want to have happen. Do you want your accounts to close outright immediately, do you want your agent to contact your contact list with a notification of your death, or do you want your agent to continue to oversee your incoming messages? What if your email is hacked after you pass and our account and other information is compromised? Or your friends and family receive messages from “you” after your passing? Keep in mind that depending on the online email provider, your agent may not have any right to access your account without having your exact username and password. Thus, be cautious in your directions.

Social Media Sites, Generally.

For your social media and social networking sites, you must also determine what you want to have happen. Do you want your page shut down immediately, do you want nothing to be done so that your page remains open for comments and postings, or do you want to have your page changed to a limited profile or a memorial profile for family and friends to still find comfort in seeing your pictures and postings with limited posting capability. Without hard copies of your photographs, messages and postings, your online presence has become your family legacy. Again, depending on the social media site, your agent may not have any right to access your account without having your username and password. Thus again, be cautious.

Blogs and Websites, Generally.

For websites and blogs, again you must determine what you want to have happen upon your death. Do they need to continue because they are income producing? Where does the income go? Can you sell them? Have you already provided for this transition in business succession planning or estate planning documentation?

Conclusion

Social media assets, including email accounts (e.g., Gmail, Yahoo!, etc.), social networking accounts (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, etc.), and blog sites (e.g., Blogger, WordPress, etc.), need to be planned for. Long gone are the days of handwritten letters, notes and boxes of photographs. Your family legacy is now online in the form of postings, messages, and photo sharing. As such, be aware of what assets you hold and plan for their future.