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What happens to your Facebook account when you die?

Photo: Spencer E Holtaway/Flickr

SPONSORED — Friends may come and go (or be added and deleted), but Facebook is forever. In a world where there’s an app for, well, just about everything, the social media giant has entered the realm of estate planning. Now, people have even greater control over their assets — whether physical or digital.

Facebook’s legacy contact

Facebook users hoping for a little bit of immortality will appreciate Facebook’s legacy contact feature, which the social media super-giant implemented earlier this year. Now, simply by altering his/her Facebook settings, a user can designate an heir to control their memorial page. Facebook hopes, through this feature, to help users through the grief process.

“By talking to people who have experienced loss, we realized there is more we can do to support those who are grieving and those who want a say in what happens to their account after death,” Facebook announced in a blog post unveiling the new feature.

A change of direction

Before instituting the legacy contact feature, Facebook’s “frozen” memorialized pages held the deceased in what could be considered a state of limbo. When Facebook learned of the death of a user, it would “freeze” accounts, making it possible for friends to view the page, but impossible for a friend or loved one to manage or make changes to it.

Now, simply by adjusting profile settings, users can determine what happens to their page when they die. The legacy contact feature enables them to name a contact to manage their page, or to request that the page be deleted altogether after they pass away.

Limited access

Naming a legacy contact is the not giving someone else carte blanch to your online persona. A legacy contact can respond to new friend requests, update the profile picture and cover photo on the page and write a post to display at the top of the memorialized Timeline. This last feature is helpful for those wishing to announce memorial services or communicate other information about the deceased. Additionally, users can choose to allow their legacy contact to download photos and posts from the past.

That said, legacy contacts won’t be able to go poking into the private world of the deceased. Private messages will not be accessible, nor will the contact be able to log in to the account as the person who passed on.

Additionally, Facebook must receive notification of a user’s death in order for the legacy contact to gain control of the page. The site requires an obituary, death certificate or another form of proof.

Planning for the future

Though it might seem grim, planning what happens to your digital assets upon your death is similar to other estate planning tasks. In a nutshell, this new feature is just another way for you to protect what’s rightfully yours.

“By planning now and knowing the rules and regulations, you can set things up as you wish and not leave that up to chance,” said Kari Brotherton, attorney and CPA at Ryan Swanson Law. “Estate planners have long advised clients to consider their digital assets during the estate-planning process, so Facebook’s feature is simply a timely reminder of how important it is to keep all your assets in mind. A financial planner and estate planning attorney can help you make sure you’re not leaving anything out.”

For now, Facebook users can enjoy the idea of immortality — at least in the digital sense.

Kari Brotherton is the chair of Ryan Swanson’s Estate Planning & Probate Practice Group. Reach her at 206.654.2227 or


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