Facebook assets in limbo after users die

Digital assets such as financial accounts and other holdings are becoming a hot-button topic among estate administration professionals. Still, some of those assets are poorly defined by traditional estate planning schemes; how, for example, does one distribute access to one's email accounts or Facebook profiles? Bills proposed throughout the United States would allow these digital assets to transfer to the executor of an estate, but experts are still wary about the implications of managing these online holdings.

Legislators throughout the nation say they simply need more information about the impact of these digital assets on probate law. New Hampshire officials, for example, are commissioning an independent report to examine the facts about Facebook after death.

The decisions have been spurred by a series of tragic events that have caused families further grief. Take, for example, the young woman who killed herself after enduring indescribable cyber-bullying. Even after the girl's death, her Facebook wall was inundated with hateful messages that her parents saw on a daily basis. There was no way to access the girl's profile because no law exists to compel the company to provide login information to relatives of deceased users.

Advocates say that individual companies are doing a poor job of managing the online presences of deceased users. Instead of individual corporate policies, a federal mandate should be issued that would require companies to follow certain steps after a user's death. Social media sites such as Facebook have begun memorializing their users, for example, providing options that permit the deceased person's account to become a tribute to their lives rather than a continually updated profile.

Opponents of the legislation say the bills will be too difficult to enforce; the acts do not provide adequate manpower to give the measures teeth. State representatives also feel that the matter should be a federal decision, not one that is left to individual states, especially whereas Internet communication is concerned.

Source: Yahoo! News, "Facebook after death: Who owns your pages when you die?" Jilian Fama, Feb. 4, 2013.

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