NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Hollywood movie producer Bruce Devan died two years ago at 58 years old, but his Facebook page lives on. “It’s as if he is still alive,” said John Corso, Devan's good friend. “There’s always comments on his profile.”
Because our tech-concentrated world necessitates that estate planning include digital assets, the social media giant is now allowing users to designate a legacy contact to serve as a person’s profile administrator after he has died. And it doesn't involve as much formality as typical estate planning.
"This is a contractual or non-probate action that will not require a designation in a will or trust," said Jessica Dunne, a probate and estate lawyer with Chamblee, Ryan, Kershaw & Anderson in Dallas.
Both users and app developers are becoming aware of the need for establishing protocols to follow upon death or disability for use on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media accounts. Following these procedural mechanisms on social media sites is expected to reduce confusion in the aftermath of a person's passing.
Of course, uniformity in your selection of a legacy contact in your will and social media accounts will help to avoid complications.
“I would suggest choosing the same person that is designated as the executor in your will or the trustee of any trust that disposes of your property after death,” Dunne said. “Pick someone who is likely to outlive you.”
Prior to announcing its new initiative earlier this month, families reportedly gained the ability to access a loved one’s social media account by either contacting Facebook or pursuing legal action when they encountered resistance. However, family disputes could require legal action initiated by attorneys and determined by judges.
“It is possible that Facebook will not provide access to someone’s private information without first obtaining a court order so as not to violate the federal Stored Communications Act, which prohibits internet service providers from disclosing private electronically stored information,” said Ethan Wall, social media attorney, professor and author of Fire Over Facebook (Association of Corporate Counsel, 2013).
A will or trust prepared with an estate attorney for social media may ultimately be the best place to designate a legacy contact, because it allows an individual to list several people in order of preference.
“Facebook does not allow you to name an alternate person in the event the designated legacy contact is unavailable or unwilling to serve as a contact at the time of the Facebook user’s death,” Wall told MainStreet. .
—Written by Juliette Fairley for MainStreet