Everyone has a digital presence, even if they are not social media influencers, Instagram stars, or have vast YouTube followings. The digital presence of most people is mundane and involves things like email accounts, user accounts set up with various online platforms, and auto-debit accounts for bills and recurring deliveries and services. Whether extensive or more mundane, when doing your California Estate Planning, it is crucial not to neglect your social media and digital presence in your Estate Planning documents.
Why? The main reason is that social media companies and online platforms either have cumbersome methods of allowing relatives and heirs to gain access to social media user accounts or have no mechanism at all. For example, Facebook, Apple, Twitter, and most platforms have mechanisms for a “legacy contact” to gain access to a deceased person’s account. With Facebook — now Meta — the person must be designated in advance, and Facebook must be notified. With Apple, Twitter, and others, the legacy contact can be identified after death, and most social media platforms have established procedures for that process which generally involve the provision of a death certificate and other information. By contrast, Snapchat has no mechanism at all for heirs and relatives to gain access to the decedent’s account.
Aside from access, the other problem with not handling social media accounts as part of your California Estate Planning is that most internet platforms allow a legacy contact for the sole purpose of deleting or terminating the account. Facebook’s policy is explicit in this regard. The legacy contact cannot continue uploading content to the decedent’s page. However, if the social media account is associated with a business or generates income — such as a YouTube account — having to terminate the account may not be in the best interests of the family and heirs.
What are Some Potential Solutions?
On a surface level, the easiest solution is to ensure — through your Estate Planning documents — that account login and access information is readily available to the person designated to handle your estate after death. Obviously, login/access information should be continually and constantly updated to ensure it is the most up-to-date as it can be on the date of death. Likewise, the login/access information must be kept in a controlled and secured location. Note that such login/access information should not be included in the actual Estate Planning documents since a Last Will and Testament eventually becomes a public document. However, it may be useful to have a list of social media accounts in the Will and other Estate Planning Documents (in the same manner as one would list financial accounts and other assets).
Depending on the accounts, their purposes, use, and value, a more involved estate planning solution might involve placing ownership of such accounts into a corporate entity or into a trust vehicle. With either option, the death of the person controlling the accounts does not impact the social media accounts since control can be passed efficiently and causes no difficulties with continued use of the accounts from the perspective of the internet platforms.
Contact Our Experienced Irvine, CA, Estate Planning Attorneys
For more information, contact the Irvine, California, estate planning attorneys at Guardian Litigation Group. Our Mission is to provide unparalleled Estate Planning legal services for our clients. We can be reached via our contact page or by phone at (949) 444-5474. We are located in Irvine, California.