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Why You Need a Social Media Will

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 By Jason Alderman

By most estimates, over half of adult Americans haven’t written a will stating how their assets should be distributed after death. Fewer still have bothered to appoint someone to make financial and health care decisions on their behalf should they become incapacitated. And now we can add another necessary, but probably overlooked legal document: a social media will.

That’s right – in this age of email, password-protected accounts and social media sites like Facebook and LinkedIn, the U.S. Government, of all sources, recently pointed out why it’s important for people to leave instructions for how they want their online identities handled after death.

In How and Why You Should Write a Social Media Will, the USA.gov blog suggests appointing a trusted relative or friend to act as your “online executor,” taking responsibility to close your email accounts, social media profiles and blogs after you die. This could easily be an addendum to your will – assuming you have one.

The blog suggests several actions to take that will help you write your social media will:

  • Review the privacy policies and the terms and conditions of each website where you have a presence.
  • State how you would like your profiles to be handled. You may want to completely cancel your profile or keep it up for friends and family to visit and share their thoughts. Some sites allow your heirs to create a memorial profile where others can still see your profile but can’t post anything new.
  • Give your social media executor a list of all websites where you have a profile, along with your usernames and passwords.
  • Stipulate in your will that the online executor should be given a copy of your death certificate. He or she may need this as proof in order for websites to take any actions on your behalf.

I’d take it one step further and suggest that you also leave instructions for accessing your password-protected devises and accounts including computers, cellphones, and online banking accounts. The last thing you want grieving survivors to have to do is try and guess your account user names and passwords.

We’re probably seeing the first wave in how social media is changing the way we think and act about our legacies going forward. For example, Facebook recently began allowing members to post their “organ donor” status, with links to sites where people can learn more about the process. There’s also a movement afoot to publicize the need for people to make provisions for pets in their wills; otherwise they could end up in a shelter or worse if you meet an untimely demise.

In case you’ve been procrastinating about completing a will and other such documents, here’s a good motivator: Although wills aren’t mandatory, if you don’t have one when you die, the state will decide how your estate is settled. Similarly, if you haven’t filed financial and healthcare durable powers of attorney, s