Have you ever thought about what will happen to your Facebook
account when you die? Chances are that you haven't, if our own
anecdotal evidence is to be believed. In fact, most people have
never turned their mind to this issue. But, when they are asked,
people tend to have quite personal views on what they would
like to happen.
Australian law does not yet provide specific guidance on what is
to happen to these accounts in death. The good news is that there
are steps that you can take to have some control over how your
social media accounts are dealt with when you do pass away.
One option is to leave a trusted person with a document setting
out your account details, so that in the event of your death that
person can log on as you and control your accounts (or delete them
altogether). There are some flaws with this approach. First, people
tend to change passwords regularly so the likelihood that the
person will have the current details when you pass is low. Second,
giving anyone else your password is likely to be a breach of the
terms and conditions that you accepted when you created the account
which could mean the account is cancelled if anyone finds out.
Third, most people don't want anyone to have full access to
their accounts, which can include many years' worth of private
messages and other confidential material.
Social media platform Facebook has introduced settings to allow
users to put in place a plan for their account in the event of
their death. Security settings mean Facebook users over the age of
18 can choose to name a so-called "legacy contact", who
can have limited access to the account after the death of the user.
If Facebook is made aware of a user's death, the page is
"memorialised" and the legacy contact is informed and can
post on the deceased's page, accept new friend requests and
update cover and profile pictures, but cannot access messages nor
delete existing content on the page. Alternatively, a user can
choose a setting which requires Facebook to delete the account
altogether if it is made aware of their death.
While it is good that Facebook has introduced these measures, we
find that many people are unaware of their existence. It would be
great to see Facebook do more to explain these options to its
users, and to raise awareness around these issues.
Other social media platforms have their own processes, and it
seems likely that they will adopt similar "nomination"
settings if they receive feedback that this is what users want.
Having said that, these companies are never going to provide users
with a guarantee that their accounts will stay online indefinitely
– and people should be mindful of the fact that they
don't have any legal rights to access such accounts when loved
ones pass away. Media reports have demonstrated that families can
be left distraught when they are denied access to social media
accounts after the death of a loved one. While in an ideal world,
such companies might deal with deceased users' accounts in
consultation with their families, this is not realistic given the
sheer numbers of users of their services. So – save those
precious photographs somewhere offline, make the most of your time
together, and make sure that when your time comes you have taken
the steps you need to in order to put your online affairs in
People who run Facebook pages for their businesses should keep
these issues in mind when deciding how to manage those accounts. If
a business account is set up or managed by an individual person,
then problems are likely to arise if that individual dies or
becomes incapacitated, and they have not left readily accessible
login information for their colleagues to access the page. Failure
to plan for this can mean a business finds itself unable to access
its own critical social media accounts. Businesses should think
ahead, and make sure they have a plan in place which enables their
business to continue to operate social media accounts if a key
person is no longer around.
If you have questions about estate planning, including
management of digital assets in the event of your death, we at HHG
Legal Group would be pleased to meet with you.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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