By guest blogger Tracy Ringdahl Casaletto.
Until recently, Facebook would memorialize accounts once notified of a user’s death or simply lock the account so that no one could log in. If memorialized, simply put, the word “Remembering” would be added to the page, and friends may be able to share memories (depending on privacy settings) but no one could actually manage the page. Now, nearly two years after Google became the first Internet company to allow users to select digital heirs, Facebook users have the option to designate a “Legacy Contact” who can manage certain aspects of their account after death, including the ability to post memorial services, respond to friend requests, and update profile pictures on the page of the deceased.
When choosing whether to direct Facebook to simply delete their account after death or to elect a Legacy Contact, one should know that Facebook seems to be recognizing some users’ desire for their account to live on after their death while attempting to respect the privacy of the deceased. The person entrusted with the role of Legacy Contact will be able to control certain aspects of the deceased user’s page, but Facebook claims to remove sensitive information from the account including, but not limited to, contact information, addresses, and status updates, as well as blocking private messages to protect the privacy of the deceased. In addition, the Legacy Contact can not delete the page entirely or edit previous posts or pictures. It is also important to note that if you simply do nothing, and Facebook finds out that you have passed, it will freeze your account, leaving posts and pictures at the privacy setting you previously determined. However, some critics caution that this leaves one vulnerable to the risks of identity theft and/or digital vandalism.
There are certainly details worth considering, such as how Facebook will handle a Legacy Contact as opposed to a digital heir named in a Will, and limits to the new feature, such as the ability to chose only one contact with no backup option. Also, it is worth mentioning that Facebook does not currently require certified death certificates as proof of death, rather its current policy appears to request less formal verifications of death including an obituary or news report before memorializing an account. Therefore, before you decide to elect a Legacy Contact, you should fully review the terms of this feature.
Social media has become such an integral facet of some peoples’ lives that many law firms include the option to give an Attorney-in-Fact power over these accounts during one’s lifetime in their Durable General Power of Attorney documents. Similarly, one now has the option to log into your Facebook account, select Legacy Contact from the Security tab, and give someone the power to manage certain aspects of your Facebook account posthumously. Remember, your Attorney-in-Fact has no powers after your death, and this includes the power to manage your social media accounts, so if you want your Facebook page to live on long after your death, the new Legacy Contact feature may ensure that it does just that.