How to protect your digital assets after death

September 13, 2018

In the 21st Century most of us have an online presence of some sort. Our online footprint gives rise to an array of “digital assets” – things like online gaming profiles, Facebook accounts, Gmail and Twitter accounts, digital music libraries, e-book collections and photo albums. Some of us may even have virtual currencies, like Bitcoin, and currency storage facilities, like Bitcoin wallets.

It follows that responsible estate planning requires us to leave instructions for our loved ones telling them how we would like them to deal with our digital assets when we die.

I’ve set out below a few pointers which are intended to get you thinking about your digital estate and how you’d like it to be handled when you are gone…

THINGS TO THINK ABOUT:

A – What digital assets do you have?

Digital assets can be grouped into four main categories:

  1. Communication: This category includes digital communication such as emails and text messages, as well as things like Skype and other types of chat and messaging services;
  2. Financial: Virtual currencies are the new big thing, but this category also includes things like airline miles, loyalty programmes, online shopping accounts and online payment accounts (like PayPal). (Your online banking profiles will generally be dealt with in conjunction with your physical bank accounts, so they don’t usually need to be dealt with separately);
  3. Media: Media items include photos and videos stored in the Cloud, written materials such as online journals or professional articles written for blogs and other publications. E-books and music are included in this category, but most likely cannot be preserved;
  4. Social Media: This includes things like Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Twitter.

B – Have you made a list of your digital assets, with details of how to access them?

  1. Ideally, you should make a clear and comprehensive inventory of all your digital assets, giving details of how each of the various assets may be accessed (whether physically or digitally). You may want to make use of a Password Manager to keep track of your various passwords, in which case you should be sure to tell your executor (or another trusted person) where to find the master password. Remember to include basic passwords like your phone and/or PC screen-lock password.

 

C – What do you say about your digital assets in your Will?

  1. You will need to indicate in your Will where the inventory of your digital assets (together with instructions on how to access them) can be found. Do not include your inventory and access details in the main body of your will (your will becomes a public document, remember);
  2. If any of your digital assets have intrinsic value (like a virtual currency), or are likely to continue to generate an income after your death, you should bequeath these assets and/or income in your Will to a beneficiary.

D – What about your other digital assets (with no intrinsic value), not mentioned in your will?

You should communicate clearly to your executor/s (perhaps in a Letter of Wishes, kept with your will) how you would like him/her to deal with your various digital assets when you die. Listed below are a few of the more common on-line profiles, with an explanation of how they are commonly dealt with:

  1. Facebook: Facebook allows an active account to be turned into a memorial account by an immediate family member with proof of death. When a Facebook account is turned into a memorial account, friends can post to the deceased’s page and tag them in photos. Alternatively, a deceased person’s account can simply be deactivated;
  2. Instagram: Instagram also allows for either memorialisation or deactivation of a deceased user’s account. Instagram requires the person memorialising/deactivating the account to provide proof of his/her relationship to the deceased, as well as a copy of the deceased person’s death certificate;
  3. Twitter: Memorial accounts are not an option with Twitter. Deactivation requires a death certificate and user ID of the deceased, as well as a user ID for deactivation;
  4. Pinterest: Deactivation of Pinterest likewise requires a death certificate, proof of the relationship between the deceased and the person deactivating the account and a link to the deceased’s Pinterest page;
  5. LinkedIn: LinkedIn also only has a deactivation option. It has several requirements for deactivation, including the deceased’s name, the relationship between the deceased and the person deactivating the account, the name of the company the deceased last worked for, a link to the deceased’s profile, proof of death and the deceased’s most recent email address;
  6. Netflix: Netflix can be cancelled on line, but your executor/family member will need the account password;
  7. Amazon: To cancel an Amazon account and any subscriptions, your executor will need to contact Amazon through their customer service number and send them a copy of the death certificate;
  8. Audio, e-books and music: E-books and music purchased through Amazon, iTunes and other companies are not generally transferable after death. When you pay the fee or purchase price for the digital e-book or music file you are actually licensing the media, rather than purchasing the content of the file. In other words, there’s not much to be done with these digital assets (aside from cancelling your Amazon account and any subscriptions);
  9. Photos and videos: For most cloud storage companies, your executor will need the user’s password;
  10. Online journal entries: For closing a Live Journal account, your executor will need the account password.

 

I hope I’ve given you enough to get you thinking about your personal digital footprint, and what you want to happen to your various digital assets when you die.

If you have given the matter some thought, then the most important thing is that you’ve communicated your wishes to those that may survive you. Usually, we do this in our Will.

As ever, if I can help you – let me know.

Warm regards, Hannah