Technology is exponentially evolving. A byproduct of this evolution is that as a society, we are increasingly becoming interconnected. Even just a decade ago, if a resident of Los Angeles went on a trip and met a person, unless they exchanged phone numbers or email addresses, the connection would naturally fade out due to a lack of contact. However, in today's society, we are constantly meeting people and forging connections through social media outlets like Facebook. This means that if the same resident from Los Angeles went on a trip today and met a new friend, the traveler could pull out their cellphone, open the Facebook application and in the matter of a few clicks forge a connection that would otherwise be impossible.
With this, we have an unprecedented insight into the lives of individuals we otherwise would not know well. With the average Facebook user having hundreds of friends, it is increasingly becoming the norm that individuals remain connected on Facebook to friends that are no longer living. While the individual passes on, their profile and other social media accounts can linger, often becoming a memorial site to the decedent. In fact, it is estimated that there are currently 30 million active Facebook accounts of individuals that are no longer living.
Some families are uncomfortable with this, depending on the age of the decedent and the circumstances surrounding their passing. Families that wish to close the social media accounts of individuals that have passed on typically require some verification of the passing. Further, if the family wants access to information within the account, a court order may be required to do so. An attorney can assist with this process.
While this is certainly not a historical aspect of estate planning, some individuals are now including their "digital legacies" in estate plans, stating whether they would like for their accounts to remain active or be closed. Further, some are even writing emails or messages that they would like sent to important individuals in their life after they pass on.
While a digital legacy may not be as high of a priority for most as preserving an individual's assets, appointing powers of attorney or establishing a trust, this does show the versatile needs that estate planning can be adapted to meet.
Source: The Huffington Post, "Death on Facebook Now Common As 'Dead Profiles' Create Vast Virtual Cemetery," Jaweed Kaleem, Dec. 10, 2012