May 11, 2022

Legacy Contacts: The extra value estate planning attorneys can offer clients

As online accounts play a bigger and bigger role in everyday society, some of the biggest players in digital data have provided a feature for the winding up or monitoring of an account at the time of a person’s passing – legacy contacts. Like designating an executor to handle an estate, a person can designate a legacy contact to handle the winding up of certain social media and email accounts upon their death. While helpful, and directly related to end-of-life planning, this feature is widely overlooked in the estate planning world. Instead, we rely on the simple suggestion to save passwords in an address book or encrypted file for an executor or trustee to search for upon a client’s passing. By providing the below information, estate planning attorneys can up their game in an estate planning world that is experiencing exponential growth and change with the ever-expanding role online accounts play in everyday life. Below is a list of sites that currently offer what is commonly known as the legacy contact option.

  1. Facebook: A legacy contact can write a pinned post for the deceased’s profile (like a final message or information for a memorial service), update profile pictures and cover photos, download copies of what has been shared on a profile, and request the removal of the account. A legacy contact cannot log into an account, read messages, or remove/add friends on an account.
    • How to add a legacy contact to your Facebook account:
      • Click the dropdown button on the top right of your Facebook home screen,
      • Go to Settings & Privacy,
      • Select Settings,
      • Select Memorialization Settings,
      • Type in a friend’s name in Choose a Friend and click Add and Send.
  2. Apple: A legacy contact can access the data stored in a client’s Apple account including photos, messages, notes, files, downloaded apps, and device backups. Information that cannot be accessed by a legacy contact include movies, music, books, and data stored in a Keychain such as payment information and passwords. At the time a legacy contact is chosen, an access key will be generated. This access key must be shared with the chosen legacy contact at the time it is created. Upon a client’s passing, the designated legacy contact will have to provide the access key and a death certificate to Apple to access the account. From the time a legacy contact accesses an account, they will have three years to download any necessary information before Apple deletes the account permanently. If more than one legacy contact is chosen, any one of them can choose to access and even delete the account without the authorization of the others.
    • To add a legacy contact on an iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch:
      • Make sure the device has iOS 15.2 or iPadOS 15.2,
      • Go to Settings and tap the account holder’s name,
      • Select Password & Security,
      • Select Legacy Contact,
      • Add the legacy contact,
      • Share the access key with the legacy contact.
    • To add a legacy contact on your Mac:
      • First, make sure that your Mac has the macOS 12.1,
      • Go to the Apple menu,
      • Select System Preferences,
      • Select Apple ID,
      • Select Password & Security,
      • Select Legacy Contact,
      • Add the Legacy Contact (either by adding a person in a family sharing group, or by choosing someone from contacts using their phone number or email address),
      • Share the access key with the legacy contact.
  3. Google: Google has the option set up an Inactive Account Manager. With this feature you can set an account to deactivate after a period of inactivity ranging from three to eighteen months. An account holder can designate up to ten people they would like their data to be shared with upon their passing. The designated contacts will not be notified until the account has been inactive for the chosen period. At that time, Google will send an email with the necessary information to access any data that they have been approved to access. An account holder can also simply choose to have Google deactivate the account without sharing data with anyone.
    • Inactive Account Manager can be set up from the Account Management section in the google account. Google will contact the account holder by text one-month prior to account deactivation.
  4. Instagram: Currently, Instagram does not have a legacy contact option. However, memorialization of the account can be requested by a client’s loved one. A link to a news article or obituary reporting the person’s death must be provided when the request is made. If memorialized, the word “Remembering” will be shown next to the deceased name and the account will be frozen. Alternatively, an Instagram account can be deactivated. To deactivate an Instagram account, the person requesting deactivation must be an immediate family member and provide either the deceased’s death certificate or proof that they are the lawful representative of the deceased’s estate.

Choosing a legacy contact is only the first step in the process. When providing set up information to clients, be sure to also advise that they leave a letter instructing their legacy contacts what is to be done with each account at the time of their passing. While access to data is typically limited, legacy contacts have a broad range of authority ranging from simply winding up the account to managing and downloading much of the data. Leaving instructions for a legacy contact bookends the process and ensures that your client’s wishes are respected in the winding up of their accounts.

Covering the small details as well as the bigger issues in an estate plan is the extra value we can bring to the table as estate planning attorneys. This list covers the companies that are currently offering the legacy contact feature. Always be sure to periodically check other social media and email services to ensure you are providing up-to-date information for your clients.

About the Author

Mary Capra is a family law and estate planning attorney with Select Law Partners, PLLC in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Mary is a Virginia native that earned a Bachelor’s in Social Work at James Madison University and attended law school at Regent University located in Virginia Beach.

After completing her degree in Social Work, Mary spent three years working as a behavioral therapist for children with autism. Now as a family law attorney, Mary is applying her experience gained working with children to difficult family situations. She is also completing her certification to become a Guardian Ad Litem for children.

Before starting with Select Law Partners, Mary clerked for the Spotsylvania Circuit Court where she gained invaluable experience working one on one with the judges on a variety of cases including divorce, estate probate issues, civil, and criminal litigation. Mary is the YLC’s Representative for the Sixth District of Virginia including the Ninth and Fifteenth Judicial Circuits.