Estate Planning for Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and Other Social Networking Accounts

Social networking sites such as MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and similar sites enable individuals to communicate and interact easily. In a recent survey of U.S. adults who use social networking accounts, 28% use social networking site to promote themselves or their work, 28% use social networking site to make new business or professional contacts, and 89% use social networking site to stay in touch with friends (link). For family members and fiduciaries, a person’s social networking account can be a powerful tool for communicating about the individual’s illness, incapacity, or death.

According to recent surveys in the United States by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, since 2005, individuals age seventy and older have increased their Internet use more than any other age group in these surveys (link). Ivy Bean, a 104-year-old woman in England, passed away on July 28, 2010. News services reported that she was the “world’s oldest Twitter user” (CNN article; Guardian article). She had over 56,000 Twitter followers. She also was a Facebook user, starting when she was 102. She had 25,000 Facebook friend requests. Her family used Twitter to inform others of her passing (link), and her Facebook page has been left up as a memorial page (link).

If an incapacitated or deceased person has not left the social networking account password but you have access to the person’s primary e mail account, the appropriate family member or fiduciary may be able to recover the account’s password by using that social networking site’s system for recovering a lost password. If that does not work, MySpace and Facebook, the two most popular social networking sites, will not provide the password of a deceased user to anyone under their current policies.

Both MySpace and Facebook allow family members to close a decedent’s account or to leave it open as a memorial where friends and family can leave messages (Facebook link; MySpace link). Twitter is also popular for leaving memorials and thoughts about a person’s passing. When actress Brittany Murphy died on December 20, 2009, at age 32, celebrities and friends expressed their condolences and shared their thoughts on Twitter (link). Other Web sites have been created for the primary purpose of posting online obituaries and memorials, such as and Gates of Remembrance. Some of these Web sites even have online obituaries and memorials for pets.

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