I am reading more and more lately about the idea of putting together a Will for your social media accounts. Some are advising that you elect a trustee who will delete or otherwise take care of your twitterbookspaces after you shuffle off of this mortal coil, and others are suggesting that you write instructions directly into your Will. Some US states are even considering legislation that will deal with the issue directly. And of course, with an aging population, the social media companies themselves are spending more time dealing with the issue of what do to with dead members.
To be clear, from a legal standpoint, in Ontario, at this time, any directive about what do to with a social media account after your death has no legal force on its own. It’s the same as organ donation (and I know this always shocks some people) – all the good intentions in the world, coupled with the best drafted and executed documents, can be completely undone by those you leave behind. And there’s no added validity to putting something in your Will about what to do with all those ones and zeroes floating in the cloud after you pass on.
That said, thinking about what you would like done with your digital life after you’re gone is a great idea and I highly recommend it. I also highly recommend talking about the issue with your legal counsel so you can get the clarity needed to find out the legal effect of all of your estate planning wishes. A good lawyer will be able to tell you what belongs in a Will, what doesn’t, what to look for in an Estate Trustee, and how to go about effecting all of your wishes.
We’ve had significant experience in putting together comprehensive estate plans for some incredibly tech-savvy business people – there are a lot of creative solutions out there – escrow service agreements that hold data in a secure environment and subject to very strict (and heavily insured) contractual obligations are one solution; joint licensing agreements that give ownership of social media property to multiple parties is another. There are options – but they’re not as simple as putting an instruction in your Will.
In short, social media continues to proliferate and is becoming an increasingly important personal and business commodity. Like anything else, there are things we want to happen to those things when we die. Think about it. Put together a plan and talk to a legal expert to make sure it’ll all happen the way you’d like.
If you have any questions, send us a twitterpoke or something #beforeyoudie.
Scott R. Young