Many people put off making a Will. Add the intricacies of technology and having to consider what happens to our digital life after we die, and it’s easy to understand how one might feel completely overwhelmed. However, as most of us continue to expand our online presence and accumulate a range of online services, it is now more important than ever to plan what happens to them after our death.
While many people may not be familiar with the recently coined term ‘digital estate’, most people will in fact have one. Accordingly, you might need to consider putting in place a digital estate plan and even nominating a ‘digital executor’.
What is a digital estate?
A digital estate comprises a range of digitally stored assets and accounts including:
- personal email and social media accounts such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram
- PayPal accounts
- music playlists on Spotify or iTunes, digital movies, and gaming collections
- digital photos and videos
- any personal data saved on a person’s phone, computer, hard drive, or any other device including data saved to cloud storage
- cryptocurrencies and non-fungible tokens
Why should I make a digital estate plan?
Not being able to properly deal with somebody’s online estate after they die can present many obstacles for the family left behind, and particularly for those trying to carry out their duties as executor. Ignoring online assets (or not being aware of them) can also pose a risk of financial loss and identity theft.
Considering that social influencers also have the potential to generate millions from their online personas, it makes sense to leave clear instructions as to what happens to these accounts upon your death.
If you want to ensure that your digital assets are properly managed after your death, then you should consider making a digital estate plan at the same time you create or update your Will.
What do I need to consider if I decide to make a digital estate plan?
You will need to take an inventory of all online accounts forming part of your digital estate. This is also a great opportunity to do some general online housekeeping by unsubscribing to services you no longer require. You will need to be thorough with the inventory and list all digital accounts held in your name, including relevant usernames and passwords, and noting any security questions and answers associated with your online accounts.
Your inventory should be safely stored, but it should be a separate document to your Will.
You should also take time to understand how certain online accounts operate between different service providers and account holders. Terms of service may regulate the ownership and transfer of accounts on death and accordingly, impact the type of action you can, or wish to take with these accounts. For example, some arrangements technically only constitute a licence and not an asset that can be transferred.
Keep in mind that terms of service can change over time, so it is important to update your plan accordingly.
Social media platforms such as Facebook have processes in place for dealing with the online account of a deceased person. For example, account holders may nominate in advance whether their account is to be deleted or memorialised.
Appointing a digital executor
Appointing somebody as your ‘digital executor’ to administer your digital estate plan can help to ensure that your online life is dealt with the way you wish after you die. It can also alleviate a lot of stress, frustration, and anxiety for those you leave behind.
Keep in mind that when you appoint a digital executor, that person will have access to all of your online accounts and will be responsible for managing them.
A digital executor may not necessarily be the same person as the executor appointed in your Will as he or she will need to have the capacity and understanding to appropriately deal with your digital assets. It should be somebody who is tech-savvy and familiar with various devices (desktops, laptops, tablets, mobile phones, etc.) and who understands social media accounts and different online programs. They will need to navigate various platforms and generally deal with representatives of those providers usually online and often located overseas.
If your digital executor is somebody different to the executor/s named in your Will, you should identify that person in the Will so your executor knows who they should work with to finalise the digital aspects of the estate.
For peace of mind, we recommend you seek legal advice from an experienced estate lawyer.
Many people only consider physical or tangible assets when preparing an estate plan and do not contemplate putting in place a digital estate plan to deal with their online life after they die. As discussed however, it is obvious that with the amount of personal information and assets we tend to accumulate online, making a digital estate plan and appointing a digital executor is worth considering.
This information is for general purposes only and you should obtain professional advice relevant to your circumstances.
If you or someone you know wants more information or needs help or family law advice, please contact us on (08) 8344 6422 or email [email protected].