Digital Assets - Online Life after Death

Thursday May 11, 2017

Digital Assets - Online Life after Death

What will happen to my online life after I die?  This is not a question our great grandparents would have dreamt of asking however it is fast becoming a modern dilemma.  Online life is now a normal part of our existence.  Material assets can be identified, valued and bequeathed according to our wishes as set out in our Will.  However, it’s not quite so straight forward dealing with our digital assets, although making a digital register can help.

What are digital assets? 

Some examples of digital assets and online information, data and accounts that may be useful to include in a digital register:

  • emails
  • online banking & financial products
  • online retail & payment systems, e.g. PayPal
  • direct debits
  • customer loyalty programmes, e.g. Flybuys
  • websites and domain names
  • computer hard drives
  • online gaming/betting
  • online games/virtual worlds
  • blogs
  • social media accounts and the material on these accounts, e.g. Facebook, twitter, LinkedIn
  • photo/video/music/document storage services, e.g. Flickr, DropBox, YouTube
  • subscriptions/streaming accounts, e.g. iTunes, Spotify Premium, Netflix
  • mobile phones
  • mobile phone apps
  • password location services
  • computers, storage disks

Why Make a digital register?

Every day we use online services and accumulate more and more data, some of which becomes very important to us and we do not want it to be lost or forgotten when we die. 

By making a digital register and recording each asset we are helping to put a plan into place so that the digital assets that we want kept are protected from being lost, locked or destroyed.  We can also request the closure of online accounts so that sensitive and confidential material can be deleted and online subscriptions cancelled.

How to Make a Digital Register

Do an inventory of online services and computer hardware associated with digital assets.  It should include the account name/description, username and passwords, the location of hardware and storage disks, together with instructions for friends, family, and the executor to put into place upon death.   Indicate if the account should be kept or deleted, who should have access to the digital assets and where can they be found, i.e. on a storage disk or in the cloud.  Note that if accounts are to be closed formal proof of death may be required.

The digital executor needs to be technically capable of locating and accessing files and carrying out instructions and wishes.  A digital register will make it easier for the executor to do this.

Terms of use agreements

Online services’ Terms of Use Agreements are designed to protect the individual’s privacy, even in death.  Having an online account, i.e. social media account, means agreeing to the Terms of Use. 

In some cases an account may terminate upon an individual’s death and others may not be allowed to access the account. Many years of photos, videos and documents may be lost if access is not arranged.  It’s also wise to periodically download these files and store in a safe place.  The location should be noted in the digital register. 

We do not always own our digital assets.  Some are non-transferrable, e.g. iTunes.  Music and videos purchased are not owned by you, you simply have a licence to access them.

Memorialisation – memorial profile

Various online sites offer memorial profiles, e.g. upon one’s death some social media sites can either delete or memorialise a profile page.  It’s important to check each site’s terms of use as to how the privacy and security for the profile will work.

Important consideration should be given as to who should take control of an online memorial profile.  How will messages be moderated, who can post comments and who can see the profile?

How will you deal with digital inheritance and memorialisation in an ever changing virtual world? 

One way is to create a digital register leaving clear instructions on how digital assets should be accessed, deleted or distributed.  Individuals should be aware of terms of use agreements for each of their accounts so that they are clear about what happens to their online account after death.  Keeping an up to date digital register will also make it less stressful for family, friends and the executor and help to protect precious photographs for generations to come.

For more information or for a sample of a digital register form please contact:  Lachlan Vallance - Principal
LIV Accredited Specialist - Wills & Estates