On February 12th, Facebook created a new account option: the Legacy Contact. This is a forward-thinking and invaluable development for the over 39 billion active Facebook users.
The photo albums and videos of old and the sense of history they bring with them, which are often some of the most personally valuable assets an individual can pass on to his or her loved ones, have been replaced more and more with endless Facebook posts of family gatherings, vacation videos, and an unending array of amusing anecdotes, usually involving children and pets. The convenience of cell phones allows for quick and easy posts, permitting us to keep our friends and family closer than ever regardless of actual geographic distance. Our family scrapbooks have gone digital.
But what happens to these posts and photographs, all of this personal data, when the Facebook user dies?
Until now, Facebook has managed the accounts of deceased users by freezing them. The account would continue to exist, a thread of memories for the deceased user's friends and family; but no third party could manage the account going forward until now.
Every Facebook user now has the option of appointing a Legacy Contact. This option is easy to activate by going to the "Security" option on the "Settings" menu of your personal Facebook account to select your Legacy Contact. This is the person who will manage your account upon your death after your account has been memorialized by Facebook. Memorialized accounts allow friends and family to share memories on the Timeline of the deceased Facebook user.
For those of you who don't like the idea of a third party, even a friend, having access to your Facebook account, not to worry: before the Legacy Contact can be activated, Facebook will require verification of your death, such as a death certificate or obituary. And, if you don't want your account to exist at all upon your death, you can choose to have your account permanently deleted in lieu of being memorialized.
If your account is memorialized, your Legacy Contact will be able to write a notice on your account to, for example, provide information about a memorial service. Your Legacy Contact will also be able to accept new friend requests and update your profile picture and cover photo. Your Legacy Contact will not be able to log into your account, remove or change your posts, read messages you sent to other friends, or "unfriend" any of your friends.
The Legacy Contact is a really nice and innovative way to manage digital assets after the account holder's death. Hopefully, other companies, such as Google and Apple, will find similar ways to manage your Gmail and iTunes accounts in the future. In a digital age, Facebook's Legacy Contact is a sign of things to come.
Until other companies come up with ways for you to delegate the management of these accounts to a successor owner or legacy manager, you should consider speaking with an estate planning attorney to discuss your planning options with respect to your undoubtedly ever increasing collection of digital assets.