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Wills should address social-media accounts

The Internet age has given rise to yet another detail for Miami-area residents to contemplate when considering what to include in an estate plan -- making arrangements for handling social-media accounts.

An estimated 500,000 people who hold Facebook accounts died in 2011, leaving friends and relatives to try to determine the future of those pages -- a difficult task if the page owner left no instructions.

Facebook is just the start, however, when people consider their digital footprints. There are email accounts to consider, as well as other social media accounts such as Twitter.

The federal government now is recommending that people create a social-media will. The government advises preparing a document to tell survivors what should be done with online accounts. A Facebook page, for example, could become a memorial where friends and family members can leave messages or thoughts over the years. Or, a person might want the account closed.

Just as with a traditional will, a social-media will needs an executor. That person's duties will include shutting down email accounts, Facebook or other social-media accounts, and blogs, or maintaining them should that be the owner's wishes.

Creating such a will should be done with the assistance of an attorney. A law professor said that since wills enter the public domain, people need to take care with what is put in a will. Instead, the professor said, people might want to establish a trust or make an informal agreement that contains passwords so that the passwords do not become public.

Adding to the complication is the static nature of social-media and other Internet accounts. The law professor said that most people have 25 accounts with passwords and could have eight different passwords. With the requirement to change passwords from time to time, people might struggle to keep their social-media wills up to date.

While the Internet has made life easier in many ways, in this manner it has added another layer of plans to make for after we are gone.

Source: The Atlantic, "The Government Would Like You to Write a 'Social Media Will'," Rebecca J. Rosen, May 7, 2012

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