Many of us have received precious, tangible mementoes from our loved ones who passed on. We treasure photo albums containing pictures of weddings, babies and family vacations. We keep safe shoeboxes filled with love notes between our grandparents when they were young and letters written by a soldier uncle who died in battle. Nobody can argue that these aren’t immeasurably valuable to us emotionally.

But fewer people are writing letters home these days. Instead, they post updates on Facebook. And their wedding, baby and vacation photos are more likely to be hung in online galleries like Flickr, or again on Facebook.

But who receives and preserves these online mementoes — digital assets — when we die?

New Laws under Consideration

A recent article on The Huffington Post explored this question and explained proposed laws in two states that could force Facebook and other social networks to hand over control of a deceased user’s account if the person resided in that state.

Nebraska and Oklahoma have bills under consideration, and the Oregon State Bar Association has formed a committee to explore the matter and propose legislation, according to the article.

One mother in Oregon underwent a two-year lawsuit with Facebook in order to obtain access to her deceased son’s account. In the end, Facebook granted her 10 months of access before removing her son’s page.

In Memoriam

Currently, when Facebook receives confirmation that a user has died, the account holder’s page is placed “in memoriam” for friends and loved ones to make posts in remembrance. Certain information is removed and the page is restricted to the user’s “Facebook friends” only.

Facebook will provide the estate of a deceased user with a download of the account data “if prior consent is obtained from or decreed by the deceased or mandated by law.” If a close relative requests that the decedent’s account be removed, Facebook will do so.

Include Digital Assets in Estate Plan

As an advisor, you can help clients understand how important this issue is for their families. One idea is to complete a list of social networks, photo galleries, blogs and email accounts, along with passwords and instructions for when someone dies or becomes incapacitated.

Many estate planning lawyers provide such services as part of their clients’ estate plan. Keeping that list updated  when passwords change is crucial.

At last count, over 750 million people use Facebook. The status updates, photos and notes in their accounts will one day be incredibly precious to their loved ones. Help your clients preserve such memories for future generations.

I hope this article has helped you. As always, if you have a specific concern or questions, please contact our office.

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