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WHAT HAPPENS TO OUR FACEBOOK ACCOUNTS WHEN WE DIE?

Recently, an aunt of mine was clearing out some personal items and came across a letter my grandfather had written to his mother-in-law (my great-grandmother) soon after my grandparents’ honeymoon in 1924.  It was a beautiful letter- the kind that people years ago were skilled at writing, a skill not often displayed these days in e-mail, texts and on social media. Lets face it, the art of letter writing has been lost in our digital age.  Traditionally, people have always hung on to such letters or cards for posterity- keepsakes to remember and pass on to a child or grandchild.  Is this also being lost in our digital age?

As recently reported by NPR, consider the plight of a mother in Portland, Oregon, who continued to use her son’s Facebook account to read postings on his wall after his accidental death.  Her son’s wall contained photos and postings from personal friends, many of which she had never seen before. However, when Facebook learned of the son’s death, it changed the password and closed the page.  Thus began a long legal battle by Karen Williams to regain access and obtain years worth of her son’s life on Facebook.

Now, lawmakers in many states are considering legislation that would require social networks like Facebook to grant loved ones access to the accounts of family members who have died.  In Oklahoma, a recent 2010 law grants the administrator of an estate the power to act on behalf of a deceased individual and access social media accounts.  These laws beg larger questions for the individual estate plan.  Whereas in the past, people have always properly considered the disposition of tangible personal property in their Wills, shouldn’t they now also be being given consideration to their “on line” property- the treasure trove of photos, messages and postings that accompanied them through life?

My grandfather died in 1963- 6 years before I was born.  I only know him from family stories… but his letter gave me great insight into his character.  I smile at the notion of how much more my great grandchildren will know of me.

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