Editorials

Facebook can make you immortal, protect what’s immoral

Want your family to have access to your Facebook account and photos after you die? Better designate a “legacy contact” or make your wishes known in your will. Same for your e-mail and other online assets.
Want your family to have access to your Facebook account and photos after you die? Better designate a “legacy contact” or make your wishes known in your will. Same for your e-mail and other online assets. Illustration

You may have an executor for your will, but have you designated a “legacy contact” to administer your Facebook page or “account trustee” to access your Google files after you die?

If not, it could be hard for your loved one to download those goofy birthday photos, or shot of you on the beach in Hawaii, or you winning the ugly Christmas sweater contest. Your family will want those for the visitation. Or not.

You would think the executor of your will or surviving spouse would have access to your online records, social media and e-mail. Those electronic trails contain everything from the family photos to financial records to household bills to lists of friends who should be notified that you are no longer among the living.

But no, they don’t get access unless you make specific provisions. In Facebook’s case, you go under security settings and designate a “legacy contact” who can post your death notice so people don’t think you’re a jerk for ignoring their “friend” requests.

The U.S. Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 didn’t anticipate so much of life happening online, so Facebook and Google and other online companies have refused access to online records of the deceased without the deceased making their wishes known before their were deceased. Illinois just passed a law that gives your survivors some access, such as to your e-mail address book, but not to the e-mails themselves and any documents or files in them, or to cloud file storage associated with the e-mail or online accounts.

It would be nice if state lawmakers would make life easier for the bereaved and give executors access to all electronic records, but the privacy of the old high school sweetheart with whom you’ve secretly corresponded or your Ashley Madison companions have outweighed the needs of your surviving spouse in Illinois and 19 other states. The expectation of privacy apparently survives death.

So maybe it would be a good idea to tell Facebook and Google now what should happen to your accounts after death. Maybe you need to deal with your electronic assets in your will and list the accounts and passwords for your survivors.

Maybe you should clean up your act online, just in case.

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