Social media accounts can live on after you die

By VUYO MKHIZE Time of article published Oct 1, 2017

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DEATH, whether natural or as the result of an accident or injury, is not something people are generally good at talking about, much less preparing for.

At best, most people will ensure that there is a funeral policy in place to cover any possible financial burden that may be incurred.

With the advent of social media sites such such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram dictating and capturing people’s lives, things can become even more complicated when family members are left without an idea of what to do with these “digital assets” after the death of a loved one.

Earlier this month, lawyers affiliated with the Law Society of South Africa offered their services in helping people draft basic wills - including what to do with social media accounts in the event of death.

Spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice and Correctional Services, Mthunzi Mhaga, said that South Africans are not as informed as they should be on the importance of having wills, with only about 21% of estates registered with the Master of Wills office as having had valid wills. That means that more than three-quarters of deceased estates are being administered in terms of the Intestate Succession Act.

According to the law society, while many people "verbalise their wishes" to family members should they die, that verbalisation often excludes what should be done about their social media accounts.

Kezia Talbot and Remay de Kock, of BDO Wealth Advisers, said emphasis needed to be given to social media accounts in estate planning to ensure efficient administration assets.

“There are two parts to the Social Media and Digital Assets Will. The first deals with what you would like to happen to your social media legacy and content, and the second deals with your data stored on cloud servers and your own hardware,” Talbot said.

Currently, South African law doesn’t give inherent right to privacy after one’s death, with this right stopping upon death.

“It may, however, be of some comfort that it is the strict policy of most social media sites and other online service providers, to not grant another person access to your account or profile,” De Kock added.

Users do have options where social media accounts are concerned, such as Facebook, which allows your account to be “memorialised”. This, in essence, allows your Facebook page to remain active for friends and family to post on and visit.

The word “Remembering” will appear before your name. The person who manages this page is your legacy contact, a person who you nominate, via a setting on Facebook.

The alternative option on Facebook is for your account to be closed and deleted. This can be done by request by a family member, after certain proof has been provided to Facebook.

Instagram, being owned by Facebook, also allows either the memorialisation or closure of your account.

Twitter will suspend the account after a period of six months of inactivity.

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