The rise of digital media and online/cloud storage has dramatically increased over the past decade, with Facebook being the first social media network to hold 1 billion registered accounts in its database and currently having more than 2.6 billion monthly active users. This figure alone shows how crucial it is to raise awareness of the future of any digital legacies you use during your lifetime.
Digital Legacies In Wills: Why They Are Important.
Society is undoubtedly becoming increasingly digital with more and more of us creating a wealth of intangible assets, from social media profiles and email accounts, to online banking, music, films, picture albums, blogs, digital currencies (like bitcoin) and online currency exchanges such as Paypal. Large portions of our lives now exist in cyberspace.
This has created an entirely new class of asset that cannot be overseen with the traditional legal definitions of personal possessions. The law treats digital assets in a different way to ordinary, tangible belongings. Whereas people can leave their physical property to people in their Wills, the legal status of digital assets is much less clear; who owns a person’s digital assets when they die? Can a person’s digital assets, or access to the digital content, be left in a Will? These are the issues now facing someone Will writing with digital assets in the 21st century.
Where property exists in a digital format, it is considered a digital asset and typically falls into one of the following categories:
- Social Media Accounts
- Email Accounts
- Media (photos, videos, music)
- Online payment Methods/Bank Accounts
- Online Reward Points
- Crypto-Currencies (e.g. bitcoin)
If a person posts a comment on someone’s Instagram post, this can even be used to form part of a digital legacy and it is not always straightforward to determine how this information can be used after death. Every online entity will have its own terms and conditions as to how an account is to be treated after the death of its owner and it can be hard work trying to get a hold of the social media sites themselves to inform them of the bereavement.
This is why Family Matters advises clients to make a list of all their digital information, whether it is personal or financial, when using our will writing service.
What Happens To My Digital Content When I Die?
After a person dies, digital legacies are usually owned by the beneficiary of the will and the online services that store the information. Before you write a will it is a good idea to read up on the end of life policies that each website/provider has in place to ensure that you follow all the right procedures.
For example, Twitter’s policy includes assisting family members or other authorised individuals with the recording of a death. They do require information such as information about the deceased, a copy of the family member’s ID, and a copy of the deceased’s death certificate in order to close the account. Under no circumstances will they allow anyone access to the deceased individual’s accounts, which means that precious moments saved on hidden albums may be lost forever if they are not saved elsewhere beforehand.
- Some services can manage all your online account passwords in one place, which could be useful for the executor of the will to be aware of.
- Check Google’s Inactive Account Manager to control who your information should be passed on to after death.
- Keep a record of accounts that generate income such as Ebay, YouTube, monetised blogs or PayPal so you can record who will benefit from these.
- Memorialisation- Some social media sites like Facebook have an option to memorialise a deceased individual’s account and friends and family members can share memories of that person.
Making plans for your online accounts and digital legacy cannot be done by a third party; All plans must be made by you as you own the online accounts and devices where your personal photos, videos and other digital assets are held. You own the passwords, photos, videos, media, money and credit held within them and without passing over control to someone else they will become defunct.
Social Media Accounts
Facebook, Twitter and Instagram delete the accounts of a person who has died. However, they’ll usually require proof of death and authority of the person making the request. The same applies to Snapchat and many other social media providers.
Facebook accounts can be ‘memorialised’ so that confirmed Facebook friends can view the profile but accounts can only be memorialised if you have designated a Facebook Friend as a ‘legacy contact’ in your settings. If you do not want your page being memorialised, you can the preference for ‘delete after death’. Instagram can also memorialise accounts.
With Twitter however, the only option when someone dies is to have the account deactivated.
Google’s Inactive Account Manager enables users to decide what happens to the data stored in Google Mail and certain other Google services in the event of the user’s death. This Allows you to decide whether your account should be automatically closed after a specified period of inactivity; or whether the data should be passed on to a named person.
Accessing Outlook.com, OneDrive and other Microsoft services when someone has died is more complicated. The account will close after two years of inactivity but if you have shared access to your account, somebody can close it. Microsoft must sometimes be formally served with a valid court order to release a deceased or incapacitated user’s information.
Social network policies change all the time though and policies will differ from one company to another. The main point is that with each company, your loved one will need to provide proof of death and proof of their entitlement to deal with your affairs
Investments And Cryptocurrencies
There are several kinds of accounts that contain money and the policies for these can vary.
PayPal, for instance, requires evidence that a customer has died. They will then close the account and transfer the balance to the executor of your estate or someone else named in your Will.
If you make a commission from various websites for creative work, or have invested into a cryptocurrency communal software project, your family may never even know about it.
If you are about to Write a Will, you can make things a little easier for the executor of your estate by doing the following:
- Make a list of all your digital assets and understand the terms and conditions for each digital service provider so that you know what happens if you were to die.
- When Making your list, write down what you would like to happen with each account in the event of your death, such as “memorialisation”. We can advise you further on this.
- Ensure the executor can locate the log-in details for your accounts as passwords cannot be stored within a Will.
You can store a statement of preferences with your Will with details on each of your digital assets, which will take the pressure off your loved ones.
If you are considering using our Will writing service, our advisors are here to offer free advice with absolutely no obligation.