According to the national manager of estate planning at Australian Unity Trustees, Anna Hacker, the proliferation of social media usage among all generations means it’s increasingly important that Australians consider their accounts when making estate plans.
“Taking stock of and itemising the social media accounts of the deceased is difficult enough,” she said.
“Add to the mix the fact that these platforms tend to operate in offshore jurisdictions means there is no uniform treatment, and not a lot of local legislative guidance, on how to gain control of content and close down accounts.”
She said people rarely consider their social media accounts and digital presence when making a will, pointing to a recent finding in a Massachusetts Court last month.
The Ajemian v Yahoo! Inc. case saw the court decide that the legal representatives of the deceased email account holder could receive access to the deceased’s emails, despite the lack of a will or instructions.
To Ms Hacker, this case illustrates the lack of consideration for digital footprints.
“For close relatives and friends the real meaning of many of these social media platforms is the access to the photographs and images that are saved there,” she explained.
“It is often the case that the social media platform is the only place these images are stored, and once the account is closed, they can be lost forever.”
She explained that different social media are governed by different rules, so it’s good to have an understanding of their different treatments of deceased users’ accounts.
“Consideration of your social media accounts, and the ownership of your digital footprint content in them, should not be ignored when making a will,” she said, highlighting the different options offered by the most popular social media platforms.
Facebook allows for users to nominate a “legacy contact” who can then control what happens with the user’s account. “This takes in a simple account closure, to downloading content, to establishing a memorial site with pinned content,” she said.
Instagram can also memorialise or remove an account on a family member’s request.
However Twitter, “despite being one of the most popular platforms… doesn’t offer any legacy contingencies, although family members can request an account of a deceased person to be deactivated”.
As for the social media choice for professionals, LinkedIn doesn’t offer any memorialisation options, “it does provide functionality to request the removal of a user’s account”.
Speaking to Nest Egg in October, Ms Hacker said that another “big issue” is that people sometimes may be “horrified to find out who gets access”.
Your executor usually can take over your social media accounts if the [social media company’s policy] allows to take them over,” Ms Hacker said.
“When we raise this issue, often younger people will say: Oh yeah, I want my mum to be my executor but I don't want her to have any access to [my social media] so I'll appoint someone else who can manage it in a better way.”