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Dealing with Digital Assets After Death

What happens to my Facebook account when I die? Thanks to the rise of the digital age, this question is being asked increasingly often. Yet according to a recent YouGov survey, 52% of people said they had not put any arrangements in place.

It’s not just Facebook. What about your other social media accounts, such as Instagram, LinkedIn and twitter? Then there’s your emails and cloud storage. Perhaps you also have a Spotify or iTunes account, along with online payment facilities like PayPal and Amazon.Dealing with Digital Assets After Death

All of these things are known collectively as your digital assets. However, the term ‘asset’ is a bit misleading, as you are not necessarily the owner.

What do you own?

You might not realise it, but you do not always own your online accounts. When you sign up to use a service, you agree to the terms and conditions. This gives you licence to use the site, but you do not own the account – even if it’s a personal account.

The licence agreement sets out what will happen in the event in your death. Often, the service will simply terminate. This means you cannot pass the asset on when you die, like you would a house or money in the bank. In this sense, it cannot form part of your estate.

So what will happen?

Having said that, some services allow you to plan for your death. For example, Facebook gives you the option of memorialising your account, so that others can continue to leave comments on your page. Or, you can ask that your account is deleted after your death.

Other types of account will be deleted once they have been inactive for a certain amount of time. Or, they can be deleted once a death certificate has been produced. Some services allow authorised users access to your accounts, and allow the content to be downloaded.

Assets you do own

Nevertheless, some digital assets you do own. Things such as online banking, PayPal and cryptocurrency all have a financial value, and they all belong to you. You should therefore stipulate in your Will what should happen to these assets when you die.

You also have ownership of photos and music that are stored on your personal electronic devices. Due to privacy issues, loved ones may have trouble accessing these after your death. Rather than giving out your passwords, it is recommended that you back them up by other means, such as downloading photos onto a hard drive.

What should I do?

It is always better to be prepared, rather than to leave things to chance. Otherwise, your social media accounts could be used in ways you would not have wanted following your death. Your loved ones may also have difficulty carrying out your wishes.

To avoid potential issues, we recommend that you –

  • Make an inventory of all your digital assets
  • Check the terms and conditions for each to see what the policy is, in the event of your death
  • Update your preferences for your social media accounts to say whether the account should be deleted or memorialised after your death
  • Choose a ‘legacy contact’ – this is something some social media accounts now offer. This person is responsible for your account after your death
  • Make a Will, saying what you would like to happen to your digital assets

Get expert legal advice

This is a quickly evolving area of the law. To ensure your position is protected, please contact us at Garner & Hancock and speak to a member of our Wills team. We can advise how best to prepare for the future.

We shall be discussing this subject at our forthcoming Seminar at Syon Park on 6th November 2019. We shall send you details of the seminar shortly.

To speak to a solicitor, please contact us at Garner & Hancock Solicitors for a free consultation. Call us on 020 3870 3676 or fill in the free online enquiry form and we will call you back.