Like many avid film-goers, I was greatly saddened by Roger Ebert’s death in the spring of 2013. I always appreciated Ebert’s even-handed and thoughtful reviews, and Ebert’s thumbs helped guide many of my cinematic decisions.
Not only was Ebert a prolific presence in traditional media like TV and print, but over the past few years he had also developed a significant social media following. At the time of Ebert’s death, he had over 800,000 followers on Twitter, and his tweets on movies, culture and politics garnered scores of retweets and mentions. It was not surprising, then, that Ebert’s Twitter account did not simply disappear into the ether upon his death. Instead, Ebert instructed his wife, Chaz, to take over his twitter account and continue Ebert’s legacy 140 characters at a time.
While few of us have Twitter accounts that are as influential as Roger Ebert’s, it is still good practice to consider social medial and other internet accounts as part of your estate planning. By including social media and Internet accounts in your estate plan, you can ensure that these accounts are dealt with in accordance with your wishes.
To begin, you should prepare an inventory of your internet and social media assets. This should include usernames and passwords for each account, as well as details on any domain names you own (with the domain expiry date and host information) or blogs you write. This inventory will assist your estate trustee in executing your wishes and will ensure that no account is overlooked.
Next, you should provide instructions as to what you want to happen to each of your social media accounts or other internet assets. This can be done directly in your will, or by preparing written instructions that you will store with your will. Instructions that are written down outside of your will are not legally binding on your estate trustees, but they can be easily changed without having to update your entire will.
Your instructions could range from simply instructing your estate trustees to use your social media accounts to notify others of your death and then to close down or memorialize your accounts (Facebook, for example, offers a memorialization feature), to appointing someone to continue posting on your behalf. The latter option may be especially important where your social media accounts are generating income or are influential in some way.
If you own any websites or domains, you should ensure that you provide clear instructions to your estate trustee as to whether they should transfer ownership of the website to someone or close the site and sell the domain.
With foresight and planning, you can ensure that your social media accounts are not left in limbo when you die. As with all aspects of estate planning, the more guidance you provide to your estate trustees as to your wishes, the better they will be able to put those wishes in place.