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What happens to your social media accounts after you die?

social media accounts after death white coffin funeral
Image used with permission by copyright holder
Have you thought about your own death lately, or ever? Having a will is a good idea, so any preferences you have about who gets what are followed. Also, a will helps protect your family or whoever you leave behind from spending what can easily take years to clean up the messy loose ends of your life. So definitely get a will just to be nice to your family, even if you don’t have many possessions. But what about your social media accounts? What happens to them?

Hopefully, the third time will be the charm for Californian legislation backed by both parties, according to Fusion. Two previous attempts at bills never made it out of committee for various reasons. Some thought the earlier attempts valued the privacy of the deceased over the wishes of the family, according to Fusion. Assembly Bill No. 691 was approved by the Judiciary Committee and can now go forward for legislative approval. The title of the bill is the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act. That’s legalese for, “here’s what you do with someone’s social media accounts after they die.”

So what does AB 691 say anyway? It’s basically a three-stage process.

If you have previously made arrangements with a social media platform about what to do if you die, the proposed law says do that. That’s stage one.

Google, for example, has an Inactive Account Manager. With it, you can set a timeout period, basically a length of time after which Google will classify your account as “inactive.” You can set alerts to be sent to you before the account goes inactive — which won’t do much good if you’re dead. You can “add trusted contacts who should be made aware that you are no longer using your account.” And you can also just instruct Google to delete your account. With Facebook accounts, you can specify whether you want to be memorialized or have your account deleted.

If you didn’t leave set up social media accounts to handle your perpetual absence, then any instructions you left in your will will be followed. The instructions could also be in a trust, power of attorney, or other legal document. That’s the second stage. It may sound simple, but wills are seldom so straightforward. Scrawling “delete everything when I die” on a napkin probably won’t cut it. Seek competent advice on this one, which should apply to any will you make anyway.

Stage three — meaning no prior settings and no mention in a will, trust, or legal-whatever — then the social media platform’s terms of service will apply. This last alternative is way too slippery, because as you likely know, companies can change their terms of service at will.

So, assuming this legislation does pass and assuming — since the terms seem pretty straightforward — that most states will follow California’s lead with the same or similar, now’s the time to take action. Find the settings menus of your various social media accounts, especially the ones with those photos, and declare via the settings what will happen when you die. Wills are complicated and terms of service slip-and-slide.

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Bruce Brown
Digital Trends Contributing Editor Bruce Brown is a member of the Smart Homes and Commerce teams. Bruce uses smart devices…
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