What happens to your Facebook account when you die?

If you have any "digital assets" - like a Facebook account - then you might want to consider what happens to them when you die.
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The car, the tractor, the shares in our farming corporation, the investments — these are the assets we usually think about when preparing our will.

However, there is another group of assets that has become increasingly relevant in the last few years — digital assets.

You might believe you don’t have digital assets, but the term covers a much broader group of assets than you may think.

Here are some examples of digital assets: cellphone, cloud-based data management account, Facebook account, digital photoframe, e-reader, iTunes account, Twitter account, laptop computer, tablet, hard drive, online gambling account, online gaming account.

If you have any of these then you might want to consider what happens to them when you die.

There are two different categories of digital assets:

  • Assets you have control over, such as your laptop, your tablet, your phone.
  • Assets you have access to, but no control over, such as Twitter or Facebook accounts.

The assets in the first category are easier to provide for on your death. You can tell your executor where the asset is and who it should be given to and provide the passwords for access.

However, assets in the second category are more problematic. This is because they are typically owned and controlled by a service provider. The initial contract you signed with the provider will state in the terms of use what restrictions there are to access or transfer accounts (on death or otherwise). Here are a few examples:

  • Facebook/Instagram/Twitter: These contracts state that the account cannot be transferred to an executor. The account can be deleted (on written request from “next of kin”) and a person can be designated to manage the account if it is memorialized.
  • Apple: The “iCloud Terms and Conditions” state that there is no right of survivorship on an iCloud account. Any rights to your Apple ID or content within your account terminates on death. Apple will require a death certificate and a “court document” (i.e., a probate certificate) before they will cancel an account.

Unfortunately, the law in Canada is not clear regarding digital assets. Before 2016, there was no legislation or proposed legislation in any Canadian province on how to deal with digital assets after death.

In the last couple years, certain provinces have started to consider the issue. In Alberta, one of the core tasks of an executor now includes the requirement to compile a list of online accounts. Saskatchewan is in the process of enacting legislation dealing with digital assets.

In the meantime, here are some suggestions on how to deal with your digital assets:

  • Identify the potential digital assets. Make a list and include the list in your will.
  • For each asset, identify where the asset is located and whether a password or security questions are required. State what you want to happen to the asset (do you want a memorial page created? Do you want certain photos taken off of the page before it is deleted)?
  • Consider how to track passwords. There is no need to provide passwords to executors or to your adviser while you are alive. However, consider where you are storing your password information, and whether you can leave some information for your executor about where to find the passwords when you are no longer here.
  • In addition, it is helpful to include clauses in your will and power-of-attorney documents that name an executor/trustee/attorney who can handle the digital assets and provide instructions and authorization to deal with the digital accounts.

Amanda Doucette is a lawyer and partner with Stevenson Hood Thornton Beaubier LLP in Saskatoon, who can be contacted at adoucette@shtb-law.com. She is also the creator of The Tax Chick Blog, available at taxchickca.wordpress.com), and The Tax Chick Podcast, available on Apple Podcasts and Spotify. The information in this article is not legal advice. We encourage you to consult with your legal advisor for advice specific to you.

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