How to Close Facebook When Someone Dies – Part 2

In the real world, it’s a big problem when people die and their trusted advisors or family members do not have access to their online life.  Does anyone know how to close facebook account when someone dies?

But who can you really trust with this info? Many people put off writing a will, because they can’t decide who they trust to name as guardian, trustee or executor. Imagine thinking about who you’d name to have access to your emails?

Well, let’s not get that carried away!  With Facebook’s new legacy policy, unfettered access to your entire FB account is not likely. But the policy does set the stage for how other online providers will deal with the real world problem of how an online life is managed when someone dies.

death of a person – who is the owner of passwords, online accounts and the like.  OftenWhat happens to your online world when you’re no longer around?  Have you ever given thought  to how your social media contacts will know what happened to you?  Or how ongoing payments to regular creditors will be stopped?images

Sometimes with estate planning, truly important things are left unsaid.  Regrets about unspoken apologies or “I love yous” are well-known. But regrets about not leaving a list of passwords in a safe place, well these problems are just coming to the fore.

The term Legacy has taken on a broader sense in the age of technology. Facebook has just launched a “Legacy Contact” provision that allows account holders to appoint someone to manage their account similar to the way an executor/executrix manages one’s estate. The difference here is that once an account holder appoints a “legacy contact” the appointee can access the account and carry out the wishes immediately for the decedent unlike a will that must go through a probate court process that at times can be lengthy.

Since it can take effect as quickly as the “legacy contact” person takes possession of the account of the deceased, the appointee can post funeral plans.

The designated appointee is subject to limits – but not as extensive as you may realize.  Our next post will cover more of the specifics!

does have some limitations as he/she will not be able to view messages, delete contacts, log into the account or change the account settings. The “legacy contact” can however, download a copy of anything that the decedent has shared. On the other hand, the “legacy contact” will not be permitted to delete or edit the posts of the account holder that has already been shared. The appointee is able to change the profile, cover photo, and may attach a new post to the top of the timeline. Facebook will also post the word “Remembering”.

Facebook has a stipulation that in order for a “legacy contact” to inherit the account, they must prove the death.

Step by step instructions are:

  • Click Settings
  • Click Security
  • Click Legacy Contact

At this point one can name a person who one wishes to administer his/her page. It will create a message to one’s chosen “legacy contact”. There is an additional option that will give one’s “legacy contact” authorization to gain entry to one’s photos, posts, and information that is located in the “about” part of the account. A “legacy contact” can never log in as the account holder. Instead one must sign in on their own Facebook account.

If one does not wish the account to live on, the provision allows the ‘legacy contact” to delete the account entirely. Prior to the new options, the account was left in the same state as if the account holder was living. Heirs did not have the right to change it. As it stands now, it is only available in the US and in the future Facebook hopes to make it worldwide.

Learning a Lesson

This past fall I had the good fortune to be consulted by an attorney who wanted to discuss estate planning as he began the process of downsizing his life and law practice. Although he and I didn’t know each other before the meeting, I quickly learned what prompted it.

“I just finished handling a dear friend’s estate,” he told me. “He owned property in two states and had an art collection. I’m finally closing it out now, after almost 3 years,” he said shaking his head. “I don’t want to leave a mess like this behind for my wife and kids.” We chatted over many coffees at The Black Cow  – about our lives and careers. He shared with me what he wanted for his family’s future.

As we talked about how to best carry out his wishes, it didn’t take me long to realize he was as nice a person as I’d ever met. When we parted, I was armed with a yellow pad of notes and looked forward to working on his plans.  I was blown away when his family contacted me shortly thereafter to let me know he’d died accidentally while on vacation.

Fortunately my pages of notes, recording his wishes and plans and the cadence of our conversation, made it easier to communicate with the family he’d spoken of so lovingly. And despite the unexpected death, his plans could be implemented because he’d shared them. Except for one thing:  he never shared his passwords. And, as it turned out, he conducted most of his financial life online.

No Passwords Means No Access.

When I met his family it was clear his wife had no material role in their finances. Since the accounts and credit cards were in her husband’s name,  we had no way to “unlock” the state of things, without passwords. While it was easy to get his personal computer “unlocked,” it did not contain the hoped for list of passwords.  I saw the frustration as his wife tried countless combinations of birthdays, names and words to no avail. As we searched to find assets to meet the family’s short term cash needs:

  • His law firm locked down his office computer.  We had no access to time/billing records, nor what his firm owed him for outstanding billings and accounts receivables.
  • His mortgage and banking was done online and paperless. His wife was unaware of the amount of her monthly bills or how much cash was on hand to pay them.
  • His mobile phone was password protected. The vendor would disconnect it but not reveal the code to unlock it.

Next Steps

I reviewed prior tax returns to learn about his banking, credit cards, mortgages and car loans. We needed to get a handle on what he owed, and how much might be due him. Fortunately he had a good accountant and the tax return revealed a lot. But much valuable information was difficult or impossible to access. For example:

  • The cell phone was disconnected when it could not be unlocked and gone were the contacts, call history and the ability to receive incoming calls. The family came to truly regret having done this too quickly.
  • The  email provider had a procedure for retrieving email, but it required a lot of red tape and after 5 months, the family was still locked out.
  • Linked in and facebook accounts are still up and operative, with no one at the helm.
  • Although known bank accounts and credit cards were cancelled, many regular “subscription” purchases continued against bank overdraft lines. It took weeks to figure out why this was happening and how to stop it.

Some Practical Advice

As an estate planning attorney, I know from experience that it’s harder and more costly to administer an estate if a decedent didn’t keep good records, or a surviving spouse is not in the financial loop. In today’s world, with many folks migrating their financial world online, failing to leave behind passwords makes this process even more difficult.

There are companies which can “lock down” this information in a safe place for you – for a fee. Depending on the nature of your assets and your online world, that may be the way to go. But I’d recommend at the least you keep a list in a safe place. You can download a checklist for all of your estate planning information, including a page for passwords,  from my website at:

Anyone reading today’s headlines knows there is a big tension between personal privacy and the sense that “big brother is always watching.”  It’s my hunch that it is likely far easier for NSA to access information about your life than it will be for an estate lawyer or your family if you don’t leave passwords in a safe place.

Parker Press Inc. has provided this information concerning the subject matter covered, for educational purposes. Parker Press Inc. does not render legal or other professional advice, and information here is not a substitute for the advice of an attorney, nor does it constitute the rendering of legal or professional advice or services to a particular individual. If legal or other expert assistance is needed, the services of a qualified professional should be sought to address the specific needs in your situation. 

Susan G. Parker, Esq.

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