Four months after losing Cortez, who was 39 when she died, Lopez began sending her sister messages and posting comments on her Facebook wall.
Lopez felt as if her sister was reading those messages, keeping the connection between them alive.
“It’s the good news that I like to share with her, but every so often I do write that I miss her,” Lopez said. “Her friends feel the same way I do as far as missing her, and they message her that she was a really great person.”
According to Facebook, when a user dies, their friends and family members have the option to delete or memorialize the account with proof of death. If the page is memorialized, confirmed friends can still see the page and leave posts.
But memorializing an account prevents anyone from logging into the account in the same way the user would, which has become a problem for family members who want access to those pages. Facebook does not provide family members with the login information of the deceased.
Bu Zhong, a social media expert and professor at Penn State University, said Facebook after death is a very urgent issue for social scientists, lawyers and attorneys to think about.
“I know some people who have [specified] that in their will, that they want their digital account deleted after their death,” Zhong said. “It’s sort of like intellectual property.”
Evan Carroll, co-author of Your Digital Afterlife, said much of what people have these days they possess in digital form — “the photographs we take are now digital, messages and videos are now digital.”
Laws concerning these digital assets have been passed in five states.
In Oklahoma and Idaho, administrators of an estate can be granted powers, if stipulated, over digital accounts of the deceased. Those powers might include the option to continue or terminate the digital accounts.
Rhode Island, Connecticut and Indiana have passed similar laws. Indiana’s law requires that any custodian of someone’s digital information give an estate representative access to or copies of stored information.
Former Democratic Oklahoma lawmaker Ryan Kiesel came up with the framework for Oklahoma’s digital estate law while listening to an NPR report on the subject.
“It has created this opportunity to have a conversation for planning the distribution of your digital estates according to your wishes,” Kiesel said of the law. “One of my motivations was to get individuals and their attorneys, and those involved in their estate planning to think about digital assets.”
David Goldman, a Florida attorney who focuses in areas of asset protection, said there are, as yet, no digital estate laws in Florida. That means the rights over a digital asset might be dependent on the user agreement — that thing people click but very seldom read.