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Estate planning: Will you live on in social media infamy?

Overwhelming numbers of individuals throughout Oklahoma and the rest of the country are flocking to social media accounts to share status updates, links and pictures. What happens to all that information -- and the social media account itself -- once a person passes away? Privacy advocates and lawmakers are considering just such questions.

Some online companies follow policies that automatically terminate an account when notification is received that the account holder is deceased. Other companies let accounts sit idle for years while information posted by the deceased person is still visible. Both methods involve pros and cons.

Privacy organizations and some government entities are pushing for regulation that would close accounts of deceased individuals or limit access to those accounts. The Uniform Law Commission is lobbying Congress for legislation that moves the other direction. They want family members to be given access to accounts and information unless the deceased specifically made provision against that in estate planning documents.

One mother who lost her son related his social media accounts to a box full of letters. A box of letters would become part of the estate, and the family could cherish the information. Facebook currently has a policy that lets families convert personal accounts to memorial pages. Twitter, on the other hand, deactivates an account if requested by a family member or estate executor.

In some cases, the information posted isn't owned by the individuals. Rights to information posted on some social networks belong to the networks themselves. When creating wills or other documents that reference social media or online accounts, it's important to understand who owns information and how it can be passed down to loved ones or protected with regard to privacy.

Source: International Business Times, "What Happens To Your Facebook When You Die? Mourning Families, Lawmakers Investigating How To Handle The Deceased's Social Media" Jeff Stone, Jul. 17, 2014

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