Digital Assets & Estate Matters: What happens to your online data after your death?

In today’s world nearly everything is digital, cloud storage is used for your personal files, Facebook for your social calendar and LinkedIn for your career. Most people have adjusted to technology taking over their life, but few realise that their digital footprint can also pose a real problem after your death.

Digital platforms are required to respect your privacy and this requirement continues after your passing. If you haven’t properly prepared your will your beneficiaries may face real issues accessing some of your most important assets.

Read on for advice on how to incorporate your digital assets into your estate planning.

What should you do?

Appointing an Executor with authority to access your digital platforms is extremely important, otherwise, your photographs, videos, contact lists and other digital contact may remain inaccessible after your death.

We suggest you follow these instructions to ensure your online data can be managed in accordance with your wishes

1.  Review and record all of your digital assets and account details;

2.  Ensure that these records are placed in a secured environment so as not to compromise the integrity of your online security;

3.  Nominate an Executor for your digital estate;

4.  Include in your will a detailed account of how you wish your data to be accessed and dealt with upon your death;

5.  Categorise your files so that your instructions can be easily followed by your Executor;

Be careful that you choose an Executor, with the technical skills to carry out your instructions.

Social Media

You may own the copyright to content you choose to share to these websites, and most services have provisions to allow for an account to be dealt with after the owner dies.

Facebook allows you to choose a ‘Legacy Contact’ who can manage your account on your death; this allows the chosen individual to ‘memorialise’ your account, request deletion or download a copy of your shared data. A ‘memorialised’ account remains active as a virtual tribute to your life while preventing any future activity.

Photos, videos, wall posts, profile and contact information, as well as events and friend lists are all downloadable content for your chosen contact. Your ‘legacy contact’ will not have access to your personalized messages or content which was synced but not uploaded.

Another option for managing your social media accounts is to store a regularly updated copy of your data on a separate server; some websites such as Facebook have provided a link for this action, allowing you to do this with relative ease. This is a useful option for services such as Twitter which does not allow any other individuals to access your account regardless of the relationship.

Email Accounts

A request accompanied by sufficient proof may be made to close an account; however, your beneficiaries may not be able to access data can pose an issue. Each email server operates differently; for example, Outlook considers individual requests for access to data where sufficient legal permission has been obtained.

Google accounts allow for an individual to set up an ‘inactive account manager’, allowing for a selected contact to be notified when the account is inactive and providing the individual with access to various accounts of your choosing. This may include access to Blogger, Drive, Mail and/or YouTube.

Music/literary content

Although physical copies of novels and music are an inheritable asset, digital copies from platforms such as Spotify or Kindle are not. Access to this material is via a license which is usually non-transferrable and can expire upon notification of death.

Unregulated platforms and cryptocurrencies

Unregulated platforms, such as virtual wallets where cryptocurrencies may be stored, do not have a body which can be appealed to in order to grant access to a deceased’s account. If you wish your Executor to gain access to these you will need to provide them with a method of accessing your public and private key upon your death.

The brave new world of digital assets presents challenges for executors and beneficiaries. Consider the files and if you want your digital files available, consider the particular feature of each item.

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Source: Written by Peter McNamara, Partner at Clark McNamara Lawyers, Sydney, April 2018

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