In today’s digitally forward world, it is increasingly important to think about what is going to happen to your online life after death. Most people with an online presence have never considered what might happen to their digital legacy when they die. Your online presence and digital accounts may actually form a valuable part of your estate’s intangible assets, and without a plan, you may be leaving your loved ones with the complicated and unwelcome task of identifying and sorting these out once you are gone.
You may not be aware that your digital assets can actually consist of more than just your social media accounts – they also include, music, film, books, online accounts and investments, whereas your digital presence is your online footprint, including websites and e-mail. Digital Assets should be viewed as a form of property, and most lawyers will recommend setting down clear instructions as to what should happen to your digital legacy after you die. Dealing with your digital assets and presence before your death will make it much easier for your loved ones to follow your wishes in a straightforward and timely manner. Failing to provide any form of instructions or requests could regrettably result in the permanent loss of both important and often sentimental material.
When advising our clients in the estate planning process, we often recommend that a worthwhile first step in evaluating your digital assets is to simply review the policies of each of your providers. Companies such as Facebook and Google have taken the lead in beginning to offer various options for preserving your personal data. For example, Facebook now allows you to nominate a “legacy contact”, an individual who, if granted your permission, may have access to an archive of your posts, photographs and messages after your passing. Facebook also offers a memorialisation service for profiles after death. Google provides you the opportunity to assign a trusted contact who will be notified via their “Inactive Account Manager” once your account has been inactive for a specified amount of time. You will have the option of sharing your personal data with your trusted contact, which will in turn be e-mailed to them along with the notification. Apple, on the other hand, has a “No Right of Survivorship” clause in its Terms of Service, giving your loved ones no alternative to simply closing the account forever.
Keeping an up to date record of all your logins is also a wise decision. There is an array of services offered online that will keep your credentials under virtual lock and key. If you want to keep it old school, you can always compose a handwritten list, and store it safely in a fireproof vault.
Moving forward, it is likely to become the norm to include a “digital plan” in your Will, as more and more people realize that neglecting to do so means risking the loss of meaningful posts and photographs, and in some cases, lucrative online assets. You may also wish to appoint a digital executor in your will; somebody who will be designated to receive all of your personal usernames and passwords in the event that something unfortunate does happen to you. Be sure to create a digital or hard copy directory, and leave just enough information and instructions to enable your assets to be found.
To find out more about protecting your digital assets in your estate planning, please contact us at [email protected] or at 604.629.5400.