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Social Media & Death: What Happens to your Digital Assets at End of Life

Social Media and Death: What Happens to your Digital Assets and Information at End of Life
EBT – Working Shot

Emily Taylor

Associate

Many people approach estate planning with a purpose. Clients call because they’re going on a trip and want to be sure their affairs are in order; some worry about who will look after their children if they meet an untimely death; many clients visit our office with business succession in mind. We talk about who will take care of their pets, the best way to inherit tax-deferred assets, and what happens to the mortgage on a home. However, for many, aspects of their lives are intangible and exist on the internet. It is rare that a client comes in asking what happens to the digital family vacation photo album on their Facebook page, their iTunes library, or the online resume on their LinkedIn profile, despite 72% of the American population participating in social media (according to Pew Research Center, April 7, 2021). So what happens to your social media accounts and digital assets when you die? Below is a practical guide to taking care of your social media accounts and digital assets at your death.

iCloud, et al.

Somewhat famously, you don’t own much of the content on your iPhone. When agreeing to download songs on the iTunes Store, for example, users are paying for the license to listen to the song, not

purchasing the song. Amazon Music and Google Play have similar licensing agreements. According to the iCloud Terms of Use agreement, there is no available right of survivorship (although a limited legacy contact is reportedly in the works https://www.macrumors.com/2021/06/08/ios-15-legacy-contacts/). Thus, upon death, your iCloud and the purchases made within it are deleted. There is a potential grey area in the Family Sharing mechanism- which may be important if you want your surviving spouse to benefit from the shared music and family videos saved to shared albums or designated as shared items. Short of this, iCloud wants a copy of the death certificate and upon receipt will delete the account and its contents.

LinkedIn

As LinkedIn serves for many as a virtual resume and business networking platform. Upon death, deactivation or memorialization is an option. After LinkedIn learns of the death of a member, a memorialized badge appears on the profile page as a symbol of remembrance (as appropriate) and LinkedIn products are cancelled (except Apple subscriptions),·connections to 3rd party services are terminated, mobile and desktop sessions expire immediately, and after 48 hours, all notifications are terminated. This includes notifications about the deceased member (birthdays, anniversaries, etc.) to their network, connection requests to or from a deceased member, and the deceased member’s visibility in Recommended Connections, People You May Know, and other network features. LinkedIn requests the following information to complete a deactivation or memorialization: deceased member’s full name, email address, date of passing, and URL to their LinkedIn profile; additionally, LinkedIn needs Letters of Administration or Testamentary issued by a court, the deceased member’s email address, date of member’s passing, and a copy of death certificate.

Facebook and Instagram

Notably, Facebook and Instagram have nearly identical rules. These platforms have a memorialization function wherein you can name a legacy contact. This gives you the opportunity to determine who can manage posts made after you’ve passed away. Upon opting in, the legacy contact can make a copy of all the activity you had during your lifetime. Memorialized accounts are a place for friends and family to gather and share memories after a person has passed away. Memorialized accounts have the word “Remembering” next to the person’s name on their profile. Depending on the privacy settings of the account, friends can share memories on the memorialized timeline on Facebook. Content the person shared (photos, posts, including the comments on the same) stays on Facebook or Instagram and is visible on the platform to the audience it was shared with. Memorialized profiles don’t appear in public spaces such as in suggestions for  People You May Know, ads or birthday reminders. Memorialized accounts that don’t have a legacy can’t be changed and the profile picture will remain the same.

Rather than naming a legacy contact or memorializing an account, you can alternatively request your account be deactivated after you pass away. To prove you’ve passed away, your representative will need to provide documentation that they are an immediate family member or executor and will need to provide a copy of the death certificate.

If you don’t have deceased’s death certificate, you’ll need to provide proof of authority and proof of the deceased’s death.

Twitter

Twitter has a form to be completed to get the process started after the death of a loved one. After completion, Twitter contacts the individual who submitted the form to request additional information including username of the deceased user’s Twitter account, a copy of the deceased user’s Death Certificate, a copy of your government issued ID, and a signed statement including the relationship of the signor to the decedent, contact information of the representative, the action being requested, proof of death, links to an obituary (if available) and a written request of what should happen to the account.

(https://help.twitter.com/en/forms/account-access/deactivate-or-close-account/deactivate-account-for-deceased)

Ancestry

Many individuals spend time and energy creating Ancestry.com profiles to track their genealogy and likely intend on their families to have access to the work they’ve put into such an account. However, upon the death of an owner, there are options for what happens to the account and its content. Firstly, one must prove the death of the account owner and the authority of the person trying to gain control of the account. The following is a non-exhaustive list of documents that may be required, as applicable: letter of appointment, letter of administration or representation, a copy of the will, letters testamentary and/or copy of the member’s death certificate and/or proof of identification that verifies your authority to take over the account

After this information is provided, deletion of the account is an option but not a necessity. Upon deletion, access to the account and to all related data on that account is lost and cannot be retrieved (presumably, this includes the trees one may have created and shared with family members during his or her lifetime). You may wish to download the family tree, raw DNA data, or other notes or  files before deleting the account. Ancestry.com can assist in downloading the tree data. Alternatively, if you have successfully demonstrated that you are the legal owner of the account on the death of a member, you are granted access to the member’s account and you are able to determine whether to maintain or delete the account yourself in the account settings. In the event no probate proceeding will take place and/or there is no one to take on the account, Ancestry.com can be contacted directly to delete an account.

In many cases you may think you’ll  leave the account information with your loved ones and they will carry on with your profiles and digital information as if nothing has changed. However, that would be in breach of most, if not all, of the service agreements (to which you’ve undoubtedly clicked “I agree” after proving you’re not a robot numerous times). So, the best plan may be to share and save data and assets that are important during your lifetime, and rest easy about those that leave the tangible (and world wide web) world with you.

DISCLAIMER
Rapp & Krock, PC presents the information in this article for general education purposes only. Although this article discusses legal issues, it is not legal advice. The law and the content of any linked website may have changed since this article was written, and Rapp & Krock, PC makes no warranty or guarantee about the continuing accuracy of the information presented. Use of this article does not create an attorney-client relationship, and Rapp & Krock, PC does not represent you unless and until we are expressly retained in writing.

Copyright © 2021 by Emily Taylor. All rights reserved.