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Estate planning: don't forget social media presence

With the proliferation of social media websites such as Facebook, it seems that nearly everyone in Texas and elsewhere has an online life. The increase in use of these types of online sites has created a new area of consideration for those thinking about estate planning. In fact, authorities note that nearly 500,000 people with accounts on Facebook died during 2011.

When estate planning, many in Texas look to tools such as a will or a trust. These instruments are designed in a large part to direct heirs and beneficiaries in the distribution of an estate after the death of the person who created the estate plan. These documents can include specific instructions as to the distribution of many of the assets that remain after a person's death, but what about his or her Facebook page and other social media profiles?

With the case of individual social media pages, there may be some question as to the wishes of the deceased person. Until recently, estate planning tools did not address a person's password-protected accounts, which became a major problem since the average person has 25 accounts that require a password to access. Now many authorities suggest that detailed information regarding passwords or other desires related to social media pages be included in estate planning documents like wills and trusts.

A social media will is a new tool in estate planning. This document can detail the wishes of a deceased person as to what to do with open online accounts. In some cases the deceased may have expressed a wish for their executor or trustee to create a memorial page for online friends to see. In other cases, the pages may be closed immediately following the death of an individual. Considering your online presence is now an important part of estate planning, so be sure to address it as you create or update an estate plan.

Source: The Atlantic, "The Government Would Like You to Write a 'Social Media Will'," Rebecca J. Rosen, May 3, 2012

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