Stan is a client who came to my office and shared some great stories about an old friend who had passed away a couple years ago. We both got a chuckle over some of their high school antics. Stan went on to talk about how strange it was that he still got notices of his friend’s birthday on Facebook. Seeing people posting on his timeline, unaware of what had happened was upsetting.
The post-life Facebook question
Of course, storytelling wasn’t the reason Stan came for a visit. He came to ask a question that’s probably on many peoples’ minds. “How do I arrange for my Facebook stuff to be properly handled after I’m gone?”
For the first time in history we now have to consider something other than our money and material possessions. And it’s not just Facebook. There’s a great big digital world out there, and many of us are fully immersed in it.
Digital rights in general
In general, the question of digital rights and accessing a deceased family member’s accounts is one that people should be asking more often. There are actually two sides to this question:
– Should I do anything with my legal documents to accommodate my digital stuff?
– How do I prepare my digital accounts for my eventual passing?
Missouri state laws on digital rights
Frankly, this is a new area of law. At this time, the state of Missouri (as with most other states) has no laws that directly address this subject. We can take that to mean that any given digital service has no legal obligation to cooperate with a successor, regardless of what’s stated in a will.
It very well may be that we will see states passing laws in the coming years to answer these questions. What we do know is that a court order is one possible approach to getting access to the digital accounts of a deceased loved one. That process, however, can take months or years.
Using a “Go-Box” makes things easier
There’s a much easier approach that requires a little bit of simple planning. I recommend preparing a “go-box” for your executor. It doesn’t have to be an actual box, but it’s a collection of your critical information and legal documents. The go-box should be kept in a secure location accessible to a designated person. Here are some of the items it should contain:
– Your will, trust papers and other legal documents
– Any miscellaneous instructions your executor will need
– A flash drive (or similar media device) that lists your digital accounts, usernames, current passwords and links to websites
For Stan and his contemporaries, the list of digital properties is often limited to their email and a couple social media accounts like Facebook and maybe YouTube. For many others the list can get pretty long, especially with the continual emergence of new social media platforms. Taking an inventory of your accounts, websites, photo sharing sites etc. can be an eye opening exercise.
What to do with the flash drive
Keep your passwords updated on your flash drive. You’’ll make life easier for yourself in the here and now, and for your successors. With that information they can close or delete accounts, stop payment or take whatever action is appropriate.
About Facebook in particular
We might address this more fully at another time, but Facebook offers the opportunity to Memorialize your Facebook page. Memorialized accounts allow friends and family to share memories after a friend or loved one has passed. It’s up to you, however, to inform Facebook in advance if you want your account to be memorialized or deleted forever.
This is just one of the ways you can make sure your wishes are honored while reducing effort for those who will be missing you.