Did you ever wonder what happens to social media accounts after someone dies? It is estimated that 8,000 Facebook account holders die each day and that the number of accounts belonging to dead people could be as high as 30 million.

Have you thought about your digital legacy when drawing up your will? Most people only deal with their material assets. What instructions should you leave behind for your executor or family in regards to your social media accounts?

Recently Facebook introduced an option to add legacy contact to a profile, but most users may not be aware it is there. This won’t allow someone to get control of the account and it only lets them post a message after the account holder passes away. This allows one quick dignified statement to alert ‘Friends’ to news about the deceased.

Many people have business profiles (LinkedIn), media profiles, photos, videos, messages, etc. Most social networks don't have a plan for when you die. Even, Facebook owned, Instagram lacks such a scheme.

Some social media, such as Instagram, does let you memorialize your account or it can remove it entirely, but there's no way to set this up beforehand. Twitter and LinkedIn will allow verified family members to request the deletion of a deceased person’s account. Social media accounts may ask you to submit the deceased's death certificate to the social network, which can add another layer to the process.

Mike Fitzpatrick, Estate Planning Specialist with Clarendene who WLM regularly consults in this area, uses the same protocol in Estate Planning Documents when dealing with this issue. Wills and estates should have specific instructions about how digital material – photos, videos, messages, posts and memories – should ideally be managed if you become incapacitated and/or after your death.

Fitzpatrick says, “It is vital that a client’s Will and Power of Attorney specifically references the client’s ‘digital assets’ to ensure that the information is protected from trolls, hackers and identity thieves. All that valuable information needs to be readily accessed by nominated family representatives so that it can be saved from loss and attack.”

Fitzpatrick also counsels clients to provide trusted family members with the location of your passwords so that if necessary access would be available to family to deal with your social media and personal email accounts, as this could be crucial in order to take care of finalising your affairs. You need to have conversations about what you would want to happen to your social media as well as your material assets and burial wishes.

Fitzpatrick has drafted a simple form he advises clients to use to record their wishes and instructions in relation to their ‘digital assets’. WLM will be happy to share this with you. Please contact Laura Menschik lm@wlm.com.au to request a copy.