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What happens to your digital assets when you die

Most people are familiar with the concept of leaving your assets in your Will, but what about your digital assets?  Have you thought about that happens to those when you die?  If you don’t plan ahead, there is a risk that your digital assets may die with you if there is no one with the knowledge or authority to access them on your behalf and either close down the account or transfer the digital asset to another person.

As is often the case, the law has not kept up with advances in technology and there are currently no laws in place which specifically deal with the legal rights to access digital content of a deceased person.  The other complication is that with digital assets, the question of jurisdiction is often difficult as the asset does not exist in a physical sense in the same way that, say land does.  Online service providers are often based overseas and so enforcing any rights that do exist can be expensive and difficult.

Almost everyone has an online presence these days – email accounts, online banking, social media accounts, online shopping accounts, cloud storage.   It is becoming almost impossible to do anything online without having to sign up to an online account with a username and password.

 

Creating a digital asset register is an important step that everyone should take to ease the burden for their family and friends when they die.

 

  • Make a list of everything that you access digitally or electronically as a starting point. Consider dividing everything into categories – entertainment, social media, financial, shopping, government, etc.
  • Record the website or app that you access through
  • Record the username and password
  • Add the answers to any security questions
  • State what you wish to happen with each online account on your death – closed or transferred to another person?
  • Keep the list in a secure place as it contains confidential information. Your Executor should be made aware of where to find it at the appropriate time.

Be sure to keep the list updated at all times – especially the passwords.   The other favour you can do for those left behind is to shut down or cancel any accounts that are no longer in use and clean up any data storage sites such as iCloud so that unwanted data is deleted.

Be aware that not everything you access online is “owned” by you.  In the case of music, movies and ebooks, you usually buy a licence to use the content which is personal to you and can’t be transferred.  It is important to check the terms of use with the online service.

You should also be aware that even if you specifically authorise someone to access your online accounts, many online account providers, such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Google+ generally provide in their terms and conditions (which most people agree to without reading) that the only person authorised to access the account is the account creator and it is not possible to expressly authorise someone else to access the account.

If there are specific digital assets that you wish to leave to a particular person, which are capable of being transferred, then these can be included as a specific bequest in your Will.

The best way you can look after your digital assets, and do the right thing by your family when you die, is to provide them with as much information as possible about your online accounts and clearly set out your wishes in relation to digital assets and content, so that they can be dealt with properly once you are no longer here.

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