Should family members get access to social media accounts of a person who dies?
BEAVERTON, Ore. – If you die, who will have the authority to access your online world?
Lawmakers and attorneys in some states, including Oregon, have started to consider that question. And while they consider it, one local woman shared her story of denied access by Facebook, after her son died in 2005.
Loren Williams was a student at Arizona State when he was killed in a motorcycle accident. His mother, Karen Williams, used his password to access his Facebook page to read posts on his wall.
“These were postings from personal friends that (said) he meant a lot to them in their lives, and it was very comforting," she said. "There were pictures that I had never seen before of his life and just evidence of the wonderful relationships that he had established.”
But after Facebook learned Loren had died, Williams says Facebook changed her son’s password, and eventually closed his page. It took a court order for Williams to regain access and eventually receive a hard copy of 10 months' worth of her son’s Facebook life.
“This would have been a much simpler process not only legally but emotionally if there had been a different way to resolve it,” said attorney Victoria Blachly.
Blachly has handled other cases involving access to online assets, including social networks and financial information. She is part of a group with the Oregon State Bar working to pass legislation that would give family members and other fiduciaries access to the online worlds of those who have died or become incapacitated.
“While this is new, dealing with the virtual and digital assets, it’s just an extension of what fiduciaries have been doing for a long time,” Blachly said.
Blachly’s Portland law firm has created a Virtual Asset Instruction Letter that can be used to authorize access to your online assets, to those you trust.
For Karen Williams, the struggle to gain access to her son’s Facebook page was worth it.
“It was preserving something of his life and it wasn’t something that I was going to display to the whole world," she said. "It was something that was tucked away, in our hearts.”