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What happens to your social media accounts after you die?

Photo taken by Simon Cocks via Flick.com
Photo taken by Simon Cocks via Flick.com
Simon Cocks via Flick.com

As of October 3, 2013, 500 million people have logged in to create a Facebook account, and as of January 2014, the total number of registered active Twitter users has reached 645,750,000. As time goes on, more people have been signing up for social media sites to connect with friends and family and to share information, but what happens to all of that social media content after you die?

Connecticut, Idaho, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Virginia all have legislation to determine what happens with your “digital assets” after you die. The majority of the laws state that the family members of the deceased show a death certificate in order to access the information left behind on certain social media accounts. However, the majority of digital assets can be lost to family members if it is not included in an estate plan.

John Berlin was a grieving father looking to view his son’s “A Look Back” video on Facebook, which uses the posts that you have made public, but he was initially denied access to his son’s account. Facebook eventually responded to Berlin after the tearful video he posted to You Tube recently asking to see the video and dedicate it as a tribute to his son. Berlin’s story was moving enough for Facebook to take notice, but what happens to all of the other requests to access loved ones’ accounts?

Talk surrounding the touching issue of accessing digital assets has been coming up more now with cases such as Berlin’s that are being brought into the spotlight. In 2009 “memorial” pages on Facebook were introduced to honor those who have passed away after showing death certificates, but many social media sites are still struggling to come up with similar solutions.

Legacy Locker lets people create “legacy letters” that are saved to be released once that person passes away. They can include passwords to all of their social media sites online. However, family members of users who don’t plan ahead are usually left without any access to their loved ones’ accounts.

The issue of privacy complicates appropriating online profiles to loved ones of the deceased, and the law is still catching up with figuring out how to do so, but thousands of accounts on social networking sites and blogs still sit dormant; these accounts still there with no one able to gain admittance to them.