Who Controls Facebook Page and Content after Death?

With the rise of “social media” comes the question of what happens to a person’s Facebook page, Twitter account or other social media account upon a person’s death.

Until fairly recently, for example, Facebook administrators would “remove” or block access to a member’s page immediately upon notification of death.

Understandably, that policy caused great heartache for family members hungering for photos, names of friends, and similar information about their deceased loved one’s life.

Currently, under Facebook’s revised policy, when Facebook administrators are notified of a member’s death that member’s page is placed in a “special memorialized state.” It will no longer show up in search requests and it will no longer receive “friend requests” but Facebook “friends” of the deceased can post messages of condolence to that page. The page will be closed or removed promptly upon request of a family member.

Even this revised policy fails to respond to the concerns of all parties. For example, can any family member cause the page to be removed, or only the closest relatives? Why shouldn’t all family members, even those who were not Facebook friends with the deceased member, be allowed to contribute posts to the page? Shouldn’t a deceased member’s executor be able to remove a page in order to avoid embarrassment or lawsuit even if that executor is not a family member?

Legislation is pending or has been enacted in several states including Oklahoma, Nebraska and Oregon in an effort to clarify some of these issues. I hope that Georgia will get in the game by enacting legislation designed to treat a person’s social media account, in today’s world pretty much the same as an individual’s lockbox was treated years ago. They have similar contents. Facebook needs a password and holds photos and posts. Lockboxes require a key and contain photos, letters and other treasured items. A way to deal with this situation is to leave your password with a trusted friend or family member and give them specific instruction on what you want done with your social media accounts.

It should be treated like an asset of the deceased member’s estate and therefore managed by the executor and controlled by the deceased member’s Will.

Bucky Highsmith is an estate attorney and partner with Stewart, Melvin & Frost, a North Georgia law firm based in Gainesville, Ga.

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