‘How to handle the digital life that you’ll leave behind’

Aug 02, 2017
Do you know what to do with a loved one's online presence once they die?

Most people know where their house, shares or cash will end up when they die because it is in their will. But one thing that is often overlooked in estate planning is how your online presence will be managed in the event of your passing.

Technology has given rise to a whole new world of digital assets.

There has been a shift from people keeping photograph albums, journals and letters – physical assets that can be dealt with easily in a will – to posting and storing photographs digitally, maintaining blogs and email accounts.

Applying succession law to these intangible assets has its challenges as there is still uncertainty around the status of the digital assets as “property”.

These assets can be particularly hard to manage when you consider the average internet user has 26 different accounts and 10 different passwords.

People should pay close attention to their various digital assets when preparing wills and give thought to what they would like to happen to their digital footprint.

It can be difficult to identify the ownership rights of digital assets as they are often stored, created and managed by a third-party.

Most social media and digital platforms’ user agreements do not allow users to own the property in their account.

Many online platforms rest in a foreign jurisdiction; meaning challenging their policies are likely to be even more stressful, expensive and time-consuming.

Fortunately, Facebook and Google allow users to nominate a legacy contact who can access their account in the event of their death.

When developing a digital estate plan, people need to understand who owns the asset, where it’s located and how to access it.

Some practical tips for digital estate planning:

  • Decide what you would like to happen to your digital assets. Will they be deleted? Memorialised? Will your family have full access?
  • Create a list of your accounts and identify the policies of each platform regarding the death of a member. Facebook and Google allow people to nominate another person as a “legacy contact” to administer a limited, memorialised account. These legacy contacts must be appointed from your account before your passing.
  • If you want your loved ones to have unfettered access to your account, ensure you note down the passwords where they can access them in the event of your death. You can use a password manager such as TrueKey to manage all your passwords under a single password master key. This master password can be left with your legal representative.
  • Draft a memorandum of wishes that sets out how you would like your online assets dealt with. This should include nominating someone to be the executor of your “digital estate”.

A word of warning: With the exception of the legacy contact process, your loved ones may be in breach of some platforms’ terms of service by accessing your accounts after your death.

Do you know what you’ll do with your digital assets? 

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