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Digital Asset Planning Update: Facebook permits a legacy contact

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Planning for your digital assets has become a necessity for those who deal online.

Now you can plan for your Facebook timeline to continue after death. On February 12th, Facebook announced expansion of its policy when a Facebook member passes away.  Instead of simply memorializing a Facebook page, a practice that began in 2007, Facebook will now allow a member to select a “legacy contact” to manage parts of that member’s Facebook page after death.

What does this mean to clients? Well, today, I added another level to my personal estate planning.  I went to my Facebook page, clicked on Settings, Security and went to Legacy Contact at the bottom of the page.  It said “A legacy contact is someone you choose to manage your account after you pass away.  They’ll be able to do things like pin a post on your Timeline, respond to new friend requests, and update your profile picture.  They won’t post as you or see your messages.”  There is a “Learn More” button for a detailed explanation of a legacy contact.

I had two options under Legacy Contact:  The first was “Choose a friend.”  I chose my daughter.  Once I chose my daughter, Facebook gave me an option of sending her a stock message of why I chose her, i.e., “Since you know me well and I trust you, I chose you.  Please let me know if you want to talk about this.”  I could send the stock message, modify the message or opt for the “not now” button.  I chose “send.”  I received a response from her, which told me that she received the message and she was willing to serve in this role.

What else do I have to do?  I can also opt for data archive permission which would allow my daughter, a/k/a “legacy contact,” to download a copy of what I’ve shared on Facebook.  Hmmm.  What would this be?  I clicked on the “Learn more” button.  Ok, well she won’t have access to messages and photos I did not post.  I think that is good.

Now, instead of designating a “legacy contact,” I could have opted for Account Deletion, meaning, if I did not want a Facebook account after I passed, my account could be permanently deleted.  I am currently subscribing to the thought that sharing information on Facebook after my death is the most efficient way of handling notification.  Now, while that sounds rather unfeeling and uncaring, ‘tis the digital age and I’d like to have as many friends and family at my funeral/celebration tailgate to support my daughter.  But, it will not be up to me – my daughter can choose who, when and how she wants to notify others – as I believe it is up to her to decide who she wants to see, when and under what circumstances.

Facebook does not provide for a back up or successor legacy contact currently.  And, if you did not choose a legacy contact while you were living, but designated a digital heir in your Will, Facebook will designate that person.

This is not a process to be taken lightly and should be part of my estate planning process.  What if my legacy contact is different than my executor?  Am I creating an issue at my death?  If my executor (my brother) wants to have the traditional viewing, funeral and such, and my executor holds the purse strings, I may be creating an issue or at least confusion.

In my view, a successful estate administration is managing the decedent’s estate and getting the assets (whether they be personal, real or digital) to the beneficiaries as intended without any drama, court intervention and bad feelings.  The only way to achieve this is to start the conversation and the process early; revisit your estate plan often with your professional advisor(s), legal expert and family; and continue the clear conversation.

If you have not considered your digital assets in your estate plan and do not have legal documents addressing digital assets, like your Financial Power of Attorney, you should schedule a consultation with an attorney at our firm.

More articles/information:

“Planning for Digital Assets” http://www.paelderlaw.com/planning-for-digital-assets/

“Facebook Heir?  Time to Choose Who Manages Your Account When You Die” http://www.wsj.com/articles/facebook-heir-time-to-choose-who-manages-your-account-when-you-die-1423738802

“New Facebook policy allows social media immortality” http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2015/02/12/facebook-policy-change-allows-one-final-post-after-death/23184757/