How have you dealt with your Digital Life in your Will?

Rohan Brown

I recently attended an excellent Estate and Succession planning seminar. A topic came up with regards to ‘How you have dealt with estate planning for the Facebook Generation’. This was presented by Craig Spink of Spink Legal.

In the session it was raised the need to deal with issues such as control of your email, Facebook, Twitter, forums, webpages and subscriptions services etc. We all leave a massive digital foot print throughout our lives. Most of us would not believe this to be of value, but for some this information or access to the accounts is a valuable commodity or asset.

Something considered of low value may be your Facebook. After you have died to you want it simply deleted or would you like it preserved as was at the time of your death? The profile may be of no economic or monetary value, but for living relatives it may be of benefit.

An example of something of significant value may be your iTunes library. In the past we may have owned a significant music collection of Albums, CD’s or Tapes that were physical and could easily be left to a family member. Think now how can I leave my downloaded music to someone, since you no longer own the material simply a right to use it. Is that right transferable or is it lost to the beneficiaries of your estate forever?

To address issues of deceased users many of the well-known social websites such as Facebook, Google, LinkedIn and Twitter have varying methods of dealing with the issue. Google and Facebook allow a user to name a Next of Kin or Legacy Contact who can deal with the account in absence of the registered user. Some sites require proof of death to be able to delete or freeze the account. As mentioned earlier it also becomes an issue as to whether the information is frozen or simply the profile deleted. This can be significant if the users profile contains information the beneficiaries of the estate are wishing to keep or maintain as is.

In the case of sites such as YouTube there is also the consideration that the content is an asset in its own right, also that incomes may be raised from content remaining active. Consider how this should be dealt with within your estate. Who has the right to the content and income coming from it.

The session summarised a few practical questions to consider:

  • Are your executors equipped to deal with digital and intangible assets?
  • How will the executors access all the various platforms, accounts etc?
  • How does your executor know of the digital footprint?

A suggestion is to use a password manager that contains all logins and make sure that your executor or someone you trust knows where to access it and the master password.

But more importantly than just access, consider is there content online that you need to deal with in your estate as you do other assets of value.