Considering Social Media in your Estate Plan | Ryan C. Young, Attorney | Richmond, Virginia Estate Planning & Administration

Social media and online activity is continually integrating into our lives. So much so that the federal government is recommending that people address their social media and other online accounts in a separate will.

A lot of people have an online social media account. Some may have numerous accounts of various kinds. So what happens to these online accounts when you die? Do your family members have the right to take over your online accounts? Can they legally dismantle your accounts following your death?

There are a few stories that have brought the potential hazards of not addressing these online accounts to the forefront. One such story is that of Justin Ellsworth. While serving as a member of the United States Marine Corps., Ellsworth was killed in Iraq. His family wanted access to his social media and email accounts. Yahoo denied them access. The family decided to sue Yahoo for access to his Yahoo email account. This story highlights the fact that accessing the social media and email accounts is not an automatic occurrence upon death and many times causes difficulty for surviving family members.

The government publication, The Consumer Action Handbook, recommends that people prepare a social media will. The Consumer Action Handbook suggests that you prepare a ‘social media will’ or a statement of what you want done with your online accounts following your death.

In your social media will, you can appoint someone to close down your social media profiles, email addresses and all your other accounts including your Twitter, Facebook account and blogs.

In your social media will, you can authorize an individual to keep your social media sites in effect for a particular length of time to allow for final visits or you may choose to authorize immediate cancellation of all your online accounts.

One of the most well-known stories related to this topic is that of Leonard Bernstein. Bernstein took the time to write all his memoirs on a site that was password-protected; sadly, he neglected to give anyone the password. Because of this, no one is able to access his memoirs.

Ryan C. Young | Estate Planning | Richmond, Virginia

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