Social Media Will

So, I was ambling about the Net the other day and tripped over this interesting report from  Jessica Hopper at the NBC show Rock Center.   It describes the difficulty for the family of a young suicide victim to get access to the loved one’s Facebook and email accounts, since in the 21st century, digital assets have replaced more traditional diary and letter writing that relatives have traditionally turned to in an attempt to understand what the loved one was going through at the time of their demise.

It turns out, that even with a valid death certificate and proof of who is the executor, most social media sites will not provide access to the accounts and the private data.  The sites are standing behind the privacy policy and user agreements.  At this point, the only method to obtain access, which is expensive and requires patience, is to get a court order.

All of this points to yet another chapter in the planning one must do to provide family, the estate and the courts guidance in the event the unthinkable happens.  The US Federal Government has provided a blog entry on the subject of a social media will.    The advice is basically to appoint someone to be your social media executor and provide them with instructions on how to handle the accounts, which for sites like Facebook means to either leave them up as memorials or disable them.  It also provides a list of usernames/passwords for all the sites.

Besides having up-to-date wills, you should also have a document squirreled away that provides instructions that go beyond the will.  This is the day-to-day instructions on what to do to keep the household running until the estate has been disposed of.  This document should also have a digital section with usernames/passwords, as well as instructions about what to do with the on-line accounts.

Given the sensitivity of this document, it needs to be in a safe place with at least one paper copy again in a safe location with one or two very trusted folks with knowledge of how to access it.  BTW: If you plan to store it in a safe deposit box, be sure that these trusted folks are on the safe deposit box account and know where the key is.

That should be pretty easy to do, now for the hard part: It needs to be kept up-to-date.  If you change a password, or account, you’ll need to update the document.  This is crucial, else any instructions are for naught.  It’s good hygiene to review the document periodically for accuracy.  I’d recommend quarterly.

Since this document will provide the keys to your physical and digital kingdom, you must secure it at all times.  A few guidelines:

  • Never email this document, unless  it’s fully encrypted.
  • You will likely need an electronic copy of the document, which I recommend reside in an encrypted file system.  That way, if the disk is stolen, the document will not be accessible.  There are several methods for creating an encrypted filesystem, but my favorite is TrueCrypt.
  • If you store it in a Cloud repository (e.g., dropbox), be sure it’s encrypted.

One last thought: You’ll need to talk with the rest of your family to insure that they do the same thing, especially your pre-adult and adult kids.

Stay safe and with us!

1 Comment


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