Can you Tweet from the grave?
Exploring the complexities of digital assets in deceased estates.
The simple answer is no. You also can’t buy goods, post blog content or trade stocks. So what happens to your digital assets when you die? David Patkin, Principal at R.B. Flinders explores this further.
For the most part, standard provisioning in your will is likely to cover off on these assets. But with the growing trend toward virtual accounts and the tightening of cyber security and privacy, online providers are become increasingly strict with who they deal with in relation to an account, particularly when the account holder is deceased or incapable. This has paved the way for more specific “digital asset” clause drafting into wills, powers of attorney and trust deeds, to ensure the executor or attorney has the necessary power to deal with these assets, avoiding confusion and delay in administering an estate.
The biggest problem faced by an executor is identifying the digital assets of a deceased. Think about how many online accounts you have and how many people know your username and password – likely none. It’s also likely that the existence of some of those accounts is not known at all by anyone but you. We recommend to all clients that in addition to preparing a detailed will covering off on their digital assets, they complete a register of accounts, usernames and passwords to be held with the will and updated annually, to assist the executor at the appropriate time.
While some providers like Yahoo Japan and Google offer “end of life” and “Inactive Account Manager” services, allowing users to specify who can access their account in the user can’t, even going as far as being able to record messages for loved ones, many prominent online providers such as Paypal require substantial criteria to be met before they will distribute assets. Some online providers like Snapchat and WhatsApp are silent on what happens to your account if you die, and you didn’t leave your log in details with someone, leaving your assets out in the ether.
Other online providers like Facebook who do offer ways to close/memorialise accounts on passing, will usually only do so at the request of the next of kin with relevant evidence. Which raises the question – what happens if I don’t have/don’t get along with my next of kin, or I don’t want them having access? What if you wanted your spouse (whom none of your kin like) to have access to your Facebook to save all your memories and close your account?
Privacy restrictions (even with next of kin) have become a source of controversy as evidenced by events involving Facebook coming out of the USA. Parents denied access to their (minor) children's accounts after their death, are proving to be the most common issue, with legislation proving murky at best in determining who should have access to a deceased user's account online.
It really does pay to make the investment in a decent will, backed by tailored advice. It's a small price to pay for peace of mind.