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Facebook launches 'online executor' function

'Your loved ones could potentially be faced with a heartrending reminder of your death'

28 July 2015

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UK based Facebook users can now nominate someone to 'inherit' and manage their profile following their death.

The 'online executor' will not be given complete control of the account, but will be able to change things such as the profile picture, approve new friends, and write a final status update.

The 'legacy contact' feature has been available to US users since February 2015, and comes in response to calls for greater flexibility and clarity on the management of the digital assets of deceased users.

Emma Myers, head of wills, probate and lifetime planning at Saga Legal Services, has welcomed Facebook's decision and encouraged other social networking platforms to follow suit.

She commented: 'We are delighted that Facebook has listened to us and finally made its legacy contact feature available in the UK.

'Other social media sites and websites that retain content about users should follow Facebook's move and put procedures in place to protect someone's digital legacy; the digital content you leave behind when you pass away.'

The problem of managing digital assets following the death of the owner has become increasingly prevalent, as it's a relatively new phenomenon with very little precedent.

Disputes are far more likely to arise between beneficiaries and the companies that control the digital asset, where there is monetary value attached to the asset (like a Paypal account for example).

However the sentimental value that a Facebook account holds and its potential to cause grief to loved ones if not properly managed, has been a difficult problem to solve.

'The digital world is not yet intuitive enough to realise when you've passed away and that means everything which happens automatically will continue,' Myers noted.

'So when your birthday occurs, your loved ones could potentially be faced with a heartrending reminder of your death in the form of a social media page encouraging them to wish you a happy birthday.'

Owners of digital assets (which can range from email accounts and downloaded music, to digital currencies such as bitcoins) have consequently been advised to leave instruction alongside their will as to what they would like to happen to their assets.

With no notable legal procedures currently in place that deal with digital assets, this remains the most effective method of planning ahead.

 

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Wills, Trusts & Probate