THE BLOG

Should Children Inherit Parents' LinkedIn Accounts?

10/16/2014 12:11 EDT | Updated 12/16/2014 05:59 EST

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Recently, it dawned on me that LinkedIn (and possibly other social networks) might consider allowing their members children to inherit their parents' accounts.

Why?

As Porter Gale once stated, "Your network is your net worth."

If that statement holds true, then a global platform like LinkedIn is critical in today's digital world. This concept is no different than how children inherit their parents' wealth.

Should anything untoward happened to me (I'm thankfully healthy right now), I'd want my wife or my kids to be able to access to my personal LinkedIn account for two reasons:

1. Honouring my Word

I'm far from perfect but try to pride myself on honouring my word when given to others. And if something unforeseen happened to me where I had made unfulfilled promises -- be it to introduce a LinkedIn connection to another or had an outstanding debt to be paid -- I'd want to honour my commitments via my next of kin.

2. Honouring my Kids

A few years ago a friend told me in the event of their death, they listed my name along with nine others in their will. I wasn't to be their children's legal guardian, but the friend explicitly told their kids to reach out to me for career guidance, mentorship or introductions within our networks. This was a humbling moment.

Sadly, my friend passed away last year due to cancer so I'm a bit "verklempt" (my friend loved SNL's "Coffee Talk" skit). As per LinkedIn terms of service, my friend's LinkedIn account was deactivated not long after their passing.

If I lost touch with my friend's family, how could their children reach out after a decade when they might need my help?

Recently reading Give and Take by Adam Grant, significantly impacted my way of thinking. I believe people should pay it forward and some things don't always come back to us (or ever) in life. I'm confident LinkedIn shares this belief as Adam was a guest speaker at their headquarters earlier this year.

I hope my kids grow up to be independent and find their own path in life. But it's possible my children may need to reach out to someone that I once helped for employment, mentorship or introductions to others within my network. It's also important that I'd want my children to connect with people who possess professional integrity and character and other traits I'd want them to emulate versus simply having some fancy title or lots of money. One example (family relationship aside) is my own mother who I consider as a solid example.

Think Different

One thing I learned during my tour of duty at "The Fruit Company" was to "Think Different." I am sure this same kind of thinking has contributed to LinkedIn's success to date and I'm confident it will continue over the long-term well into the future.

The current LinkedIn terms of service are clear as noted below:

You agree to: (1) keep your password secure and confidential; (2) not permit others to use your account; (3) not use other's accounts; (4) not sell, trade, or transfer your LinkedIn account to another party; and (5) not charge anyone for access to any portion of LinkedIn, or any information therein. Further, you are responsible for anything that happens through your account until you close down your account or prove that your account security was compromised due to no fault of your own.

I would never tell my children to lie or breach LinkedIn terms of service by using my personal account if I were to pass away, but why can there not be another option? Indeed, once I pass away so does my LinkedIn account as does my digital library but isn't there another option?

What if LinkedIn allowed its members in specific cases to pass on ownership of their profiles to a spouse, legal partner, children and/or next of kin? Or the ability to connect to ten (10) designated connections from their networks (with permission of said connections) should their children have LinkedIn accounts?

This makes sense as many members would ensure that their legacy for personal and social good extends beyond themselves for the benefit of loved ones and communities. That is one unique selling proposition as happy members usually translates into happy shareholders.

There is no question legal considerations must be considered before implementing such a concept. One counterargument mentioned was that not all of one's LinkedIn connections are going be comfortable connecting to someone's children. Indeed, not all connections are created equal nor would we would we trust all of them to connect with our kids. It's also worth noting that the sad reality is that not all parents are on good terms with their children either.

One solution a friend (who wishes to remain anonymous) who used to work for LinkedIn suggested was the ability to create an opt-in for such a "LinkedIn Legacy" program. It could be with a code, signal or some other mechanism generated by LinkedIn that can be passed into a will or other document. This in turn allows the user to opt into the feature and prove his or her wishes by providing that code into the documents. This code can be furnished to LinkedIn with proof that the LinkedIn member is deceased - which in turn unlocks the account with a new password after a new email address is added. (This code and legal proof would be essential to prevent items from being hacked or repurposed unlawfully.)

In order to keep things simple, such an "access code" could be limited to a maximum of 10 LinkedIn connections who agree to opt-in for connecting to a connections children.

To simply "push a button" to implement such a concept is also naïve. Technological and engineering resourcing issues must be prioritized strategically for LinkedIn but as Alistair Croll notes; innovative companies look ahead to reframe business models:

"Another modern classic example is Blockbuster, which didn't realize it was in "entertainment delivery," framing itself instead as a company in the video store rental business. Netflix properly understood the business it was in, and as a result thrived in the face of disruption."

When we think about it, our most prized assets aren't real estate or financial assets. Our most prized possession is our reputation to be bequeathed, which has significant value within a lineage.

That is why this concept of allowing our children to inherit their parents LinkedIn (social media) accounts is actually priceless and well worth seriously considering.