"What do you do with your social media when you die? Nobody thinks about it. Even lawyers," says Debra Speyer, an adjunct law professor at Drexel University in Philadelphia and author of the upcoming book, Money, Health and Home: Seven Steps to Helping Your Parents Navigate Retirement and Aging. "Twenty years ago, people kept scrapbooks. Now everything is online." A social media strategy should be included with your will.
Getting people to record their wishes about social media is a passion of Speyer's. "I have my clients put a section in their will, a separate memorandum about how they want social media dealt with after their death. You have to think about what you want shared after you die, or not."
The social media instructions should include your user names and passwords, so the designated person can get access to the accounts. The person you choose to curate your social media sites may not be your executor, whom you chose because he/she is good with money. Here, you need a trusted friend who can interpret and act on your wishes.
There can be a lot at stake. Speyer has seen situations where a survivor gets access to the spouse's e-mail and discovers an affair. So think carefully about what you would want deleted – and how you want to be remembered.
If you simply notify Facebook that the person has died, the account is effectively frozen. This happened when a friend of Speyer's daughter, only in her twenties, died suddenly. There are no new posts, no photos, nothing more.
Some people choose to keep an account alive to use as a memorial. "I had a client who told me that when she dies, she wants her family to be able to continue posting. Her children can talk about how their lives are progressing. That can be very soothing for the family."
Social media can mean money as well as media. Speyer uses the example of her teenage daughter, an online beauty guru who makes $1,000 a month and has tens of thousands of subscribers. "Maybe someone posts recipes on YouTube every week. If they have advertisers and make money, you have to decide what to do about that after their death."
Take care with your photos and online mementos too. "It's not like it was 20 years ago when people had photo albums. Everything's digital now. You may have scanned letters from your ancestors. Be sure to leave instructions about where they are on your computer and how they should be handled."
"It's so important," Speyer says. "I'm really passionate about this with my clients."