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Facebook introduces new Legacy Contact feature

Wills and Estates: 23 March 2019

Often a person's online presence/reputation is one of their most valuable assets, yet there are insufficient guidance/procedures for a deceased person's online accounts to be managed after death. There is no uniform law in relation to online accounts, and each individual website/organisation will have its own requirements for passing control of such accounts, if any exist.

Facebook has now taken steps to allow a deceased person's account to be better managed after death. Facebook users in the United States can now nominate a "Legacy Contactwho can manage their account after they pass away.

Currently, a user may choose one of two options for their account after death:

  1. The account may be memorialised; or
  2. The account may be deleted.

The legacy contact may:

  • Write a post to display at the top of the memorialized Timeline (for example, to announce a memorial service or share a special message)
  • Respond to new friend requests from family members and friends who were not yet connected on Facebook
  • Update the profile picture and cover photo

The account holder may also choose to give their legacy contact permission to download an archive of the photos, posts and profile information they shared on Facebook.

The legacy contact will not be able to:

  • Log in as the deceased user;
  • View the deceased user's private messages;
  • Delete a post or picture (this will need to be reported to Facebook, who may delete it); or
  • Remove any friends.

This feature is currently only available in the US, but may be introduced in Australia in the future. It is a positive step towards allowing people greater comfort, security and control over their online presence and reputation after death.

It is increasingly important for Willmakers to think about the management of their online accounts and digital assets after death. You may consider the appointment of a digital executor in your Will, and provide instructions on how you wish your accounts to be managed. It may also be a good idea to store relevant passwords with your Will, to enable your executor to easily manage these accounts. Aitken Partners are able to advise you about the management of your online accounts/digital assets as part of our estate planning service.

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