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Your Social Media Legacy: Pre-Planning On Facebook

April 9, 2021
What happens to your Facebook account when you die? Discover the pre-planning tools available to help you protect your digital legacy.
Written By Sharon HartungApril 9, 2021

Facebook has more monthly active users than any other social media platform at 2.7 billion. It’s also the leader when it comes to legacy pre-planning features.

This post is the first in a series that will dive deep into each major social media platform and break down the pre-planning tools and features available and how to use them. We have also developed a Social Legacy Score Card that compares how well each service provider does when it comes to helping you protect your digital afterlife.

Read on for the low-down on how Facebook helps you plan for when you’re no longer here.

Facebook’s legacy features

Facebook has three pre-planning choices that take only a few minutes to set up.

  1. You can select to have your account permanently deleted.
  2. If you don’t choose to have your account deleted, it will be memorialized and you can appoint a Legacy Contact. A Legacy Contact must have a Facebook account in order to manage the memorialized account, but their ability is limited. For example, they can’t: Read messages, make new friend requests, change the content in a timeline, or change your privacy settings (meaning if your account was wide open during life, it is wide open upon death.)
  3. Facebook has also announced a new tribute section, where friends and family can share posts on a separate tab, but it is not yet available in all countries.

To set up a Legacy Contact, go to your Facebook general settings and select ‘Memorialization Settings’.

How Facebook handles an account when someone dies

If a person doesn’t utilize the legacy planning features, Facebook’s default is to memorialize the account.

Memorialized accounts are essentially a digital memorial and differ from a regular account in a variety of ways:

  • The word ‘remembering’ will appear next to the user’s handle
  • You have the option to allow friends and family to share posts on your memorialized timeline
  • Facebook won’t serve a memorialized profile in the birthday reminders or ‘people you may know’ features
  • They are locked and no one can log in
  • If there is no Legacy Contact appointed, memorialized accounts can’t be changed

If someone you know has passed away and didn’t set up a Legacy Contact, Facebook recommends creating a group as a private space to share memories and special messages.

Facebook’s Social Legacy Score

Facebook has specific Terms of Service that address death and incapacity as well as a somewhat comprehensive set of options for pre-planning like the ability to appoint a Legacy Contact.

Facebook’s pre-planning tools address death only (not incapacity.)

Facebook also has systems in place that allow a fiduciary to address both the death and incapacity of an account holder. Facebook provides extensive documentation in their Help section covering all aspects of their pre-planning capabilities. Because of this, Facebook gets the highest score out of any of the social media platforms. Read on to discover more details as to why it receives such a high score.

Facebook gets a Social Legacy Score of 4 out of 5

Fun Fact: Compared to other social media platforms, Facebook leads the way in pre-planning and legacy tools. They have engaged experts like Dr. Jed Brubaker of the University of Colorado Boulder to help develop their Legacy Contact feature.

See how the other social platforms stack up:

How Facebook handles accounts if someone becomes incapacitated

If someone becomes mentally or physically incapable to manage their Facebook account, there are some measures Facebook can take to help you to deactivate or delete the account. Deactivate allows the account user to reopen the account if the account holder recovers.

Facebook won’t be able to give you the account’s login information but they can deactivate or delete the account for you. They will require the following information:

  • Your full name and email.
  • The full name of the person who passed away.
  • A link to their Facebook profile.
  • The email address associated with the account.
  • Instructions on what to do with the account: Assign a Legacy Contact; or, remove the account

They will also give you the opportunity to make a special request for any memorialized accounts.

In addition, if you are the legal representative or guardian of someone who is unable to manage their own account due to physical or mental incapacity, you have the option to report a photo or video that may violate their privacy.

Other legacy planning considerations for Facebook

Facebook does not have incapacity pre-planning tools. However, Facebook does allow the fiduciary or family member either deactivate or delete the account of a person who is medically incapacitated.

The challenge, of course, is that once the account is deleted, it can’t be memorialized later.

Many people use Facebook as a source for sharing photos, which could also be lost forever if the account is deleted. The user/account holder should consider other methods of sharing or backing up key content or information.

When it comes to pre-planning for Facebook, The Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP) Inventory for Digital Assets and Devices offers this pro-tip:

Look for and/or ask for provider pre-planning options. For example, Facebook Legacy Contact has the option to select either ‘memorialize’ or ‘delete an account’. If you select a person other than your executor as your Legacy Contact, let the executor know.

What to do if a loved one passes away

If you are the family or friend of someone who passed away and the account user has not used the pre-planning tools, you can request the memorialization or removal of their Facebook account. Facebook will ask you for the following things:

  • Date of death.
  • A scan or photo of your loved one’s obituary, death certificate, memorial card, or other documentation confirming that they’ve passed away.
  • A link to their Facebook profile.
  • Your email address

Only a verified immediate family member can request the removal of an account.

How Facebook could improve its Social Legacy Score

As mentioned, Facebook is one of the leaders in pre-planning and legacy tools; however, there are still ways it can improve.

It would be great to see Facebook publish statistics about the use of their pre-planning options.

From the informal and dated surveys, it would appear fewer than 1/3 of account holders currently use the Legacy Contact feature. This falls in line with what Epilogue and Your Digital Undertaker found in a recent survey, which is that over 83% of respondents who use social media had no idea these tools and features even existed.

It would be terrific to see service providers like Facebook continue to engage with estate industry experts and perhaps even create industry standards around pre-planning. It would also be great to see Facebook share real success stories of families and client advisors using their pre-planning tools to resolve complex estate issues to drive home the power and importance of social media legacy planning.

Some fine-tuning and clarification of terminologies like removal, deactivation, deletion, and memorialization would also be helpful.

Take home message: Make a Social Media Will

I’m so proud to have helped Epilogue develop the Social Media Will. The Social Media Will lets you document how you want your profiles handled if you can no longer manage them yourself.

Just answer some simple questions and you’ll have a document that can be easily shared with your executor or fiduciary. It’s quick, easy, and best of all, free of charge. Make your Social Media Will today and protect your social afterlife.

More Resources

  • Learn more about what will happen to your Facebook account if you pass away here.
  • Learn more about the Facebook Legacy Contact feature here.
  • Learn more about how to request content from the Facebook account of a deceased person here.
  • Learn how to request that an account be memorialized here.
  • Make a special request for the account of someone who is physically or mentally incapacitated here.
  • Learn how to report a photo or video on Facebook that violates the privacy of someone who’s sick, hospitalized, or otherwise incapacitated here.
Written By Sharon Hartung
Sharon Hartung, Captain (Ret’d), PEng, TEP, is the founder of Your Digital Undertaker®, which provides Digital Executor® webinars and consulting for advisors and clients on the tech management aspects of digital assets in estate planning. Sharon is the author of “Your Digital Undertaker”, “Digital Executor®: Unraveling the New Path for Estate Planning” and LexisNexis “Digital Asset Entanglement: Unraveling the Intersection of Estate Laws & Technology.” Sharon is a committee member on the STEP Digital Assets SIG. Twitter @Undertakertech and website: Your Digital Undertaker. The content in this publication is provided for general information only and is not intended to provide any advice or endorse/recommend the content contained in the publication. Digital Executor® Service Provider Scorecard used under license. ©Sharon Hartung 2022. All rights reserved.