Nebraska Debates Ownership of Facebook, Twitter, and Email Accounts of the DeceasedBy: Josh Wolford - February 21, 2012
If you are the executor of someone’s will in the state of Nebraska, you might have some extra responsibilities given to you in the near future.
State Senator John Wightman is the sponsor of a bill that would give the deceased’s representative power over their internet life – Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, email. The bill, LB783, comes as an amendment to state estate laws. Here’s the applicable part of the text:
A personal representative shall have the power, unless the personal representative’s authority has been restricted by will or by court order, to take control of, conduct, continue, or terminate any account of a deceased person on any social networking web site, microblogging or short message service web site, or email
service web site.
“The law must keep up with technology,” Wightmann said to New Scientist. “At this point, it has not.”
Apparently, the bill has run up against a bit of resistance. Some other legislators worry about privacy – whether an executor should just automatically take over the reigns to a deceased person’s content in its entirely. Other legislators feel that social networks themselves should be consulted in the drafting of such legislation.
As of right now, companies vary on how they deal with the accounts of the deceased. Verified family members can request that Facebook removes the account altogether, or they can choose to set it up as a “memorial account.” Here’s what that entails, according to Facebook:
When a user passes away, we memorialize their account to protect their privacy. Memorializing an account sets the account privacy so that only confirmed friends can see the profile (timeline) or locate it in search. Friends and family can leave posts in remembrance. Memorializing an account also prevents anyone from logging into the account.
Twitter says that they will work with verified family members or “persons authorized to act on the behalf of the deceased” to deactivate the account. But in order to get the account removed, Twitter requires a copy of the death certificate, the executor’s driver’s license, as well as a notarized statements featuring a copy of the obituary.
Stepping out of the social realm, Google requires similar documentation to deactivate a Gmail account. Not only do they need the death certificate and government-ID, but they also require an email correspondence between the deceased and the executor to prove their relationship.
On company estimated that three Facebook users die every minute, so dealing with those accounts is paramount. Various after-death management services have sprung up recently, for instance If I Die, which allows you to record a message for your social media contacts that will play after your death.