When You Die, Your Online Presence Doesn’t
There are millions of Facebook accounts that belong to dead people, and those pages may never go anywhere because most of the deceased never officially designated access to anyone else before their passing.
So what happens to your social media and email accounts when you die? There is no blanket answer unless you do something about it right now.
Estate planners across New Jersey say social media is popping up in more conversations these days.
"Most times, I just have it located within the documents I prepare," said Fredrick Niemann, managing partner of the estate planning and elder law section of Hanlon Niemann in Freehold.
Sample documentation from Hanlon Niemann:
I give to my Executor/Executrix/Personal Representative named herein the power to access and demand access to all of my accounts of whatsoever nature and whatsoever type and wheresoever situate, whether commercial, social, personal or otherwise, whether such account(s) shall be titled in my name exclusively or with another, including access to my user name, password(s), security code(s) etc. Examples of the foregoing include Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, brokerage accounts, banking, government benefits including Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
Niemann said it can be painful to see the social media accounts of a deceased family member, and without the matter addressed in a will, it's extremely difficult to get any of those accounts cleared from the Web.
"There's a whole bunch of hurdles one has to jump in order to do that," Niemann said, noting each site has different policies.
Alec Borenstein, an estate planning attorney with Borenstein, McConnel & Calpin, P.C. in Springfield, pointed to sites like AssetLock that allow one to upload their sensitive online information, such as passwords, to one spot and grant access to a predetermined individual upon death.
"An executor can come in and then get a hold of their information and emails and everything in there," Borenstein said.
Borenstein said social media is an emerging field in his line of work, and it's something clients "need to think about and actively plan for."
The Uniform Law Commission, which writes model legislation for state legislatures, recently finished drafting a measure that would set up default rules for what happens to one's online accounts postmortem.
"So far, we know that 31 states are looking at introducing a bill based on the uniform legislation," said the Commission's Ben Orzeske.
New Jersey, as of now, is not one of those states.