What happens to my ‘online life’ after my death?
More and more of our lives are spent online. Your accounts on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram; your online banking accounts; your photos and videos stored in ‘the cloud’; or your iTunes library of songs and films. Have you ever considered what would happen to your ‘online presence’ if you were no longer present?
52% of people told YouGov that no one would be able to access their online accounts should anything happen to them, because they had not made any arrangements about what should happen.
No one likes to think about dying but it’s increasingly vital that the Executor of your estate is able to deal with your ‘digital life’ after you’re gone. Would you want your ‘digital assets’ to go to a particular person? Would anyone be able to access them? Let’s look at some specific examples and how they can be passed on.
Facebook, Twitter and Instagram all allow family members to remove or memorialise an account, as long as some proof of death and proof of their relationship are provided. On Facebook, you can also make one of your friends a ‘Legacy Contact’ to allow them to control your account when it becomes a memorial page after your death (https://www.facebook.com/help/1568013990080948). Don’t worry; your family will not be able to read your private messages!
Online betting and PayPal accounts can be closed and the balances claimed when a death certificate and proof of entitlement are provided.
ITunes, Kindle, and other digital libraries are usually not actually owned by the account holder, they are just licensed to them. Licenses are specific to the user, are non-transferable and terminate on death. This means that your family may have no right to claim these digital assets, regardless of what it says in your Will.
As for pictures, videos and documents stored in ‘the Cloud’, due to privacy and licensing issues it may be difficult for family members to access what may be irreplaceable and sentimental ‘digital assets’. If you would like to pass on these files it is therefore advisable to back them up on an external hard drive.
Whilst you have the legal right to pass on digital assets of financial value, and the right to manage the deactivation or memorialisation of your online social life, it is important to make a Will to exercise these rights.
The Law Society recommends leaving a ‘Digital Directory’ of your online accounts and the relevant usernames. This can then be stored with your Will and kept confidential until being given to your Executors after your death. This would include your social media, email accounts, iTunes, PayPal, eBay, online banking, online betting and gaming accounts, and every other aspect of your digital life. This will at least give your family a starting point so they know what needs to be closed down and what digital assets need to be claimed.
There is some debate over whether you should include your passwords in the Digital Directory. Whilst it may make it easier for your family to deal with your accounts, it may also result in them committing a criminal offence under the Computer Misuse Act 1990. There’s also the risk of your accounts being compromised should the list of passwords be hacked into or fall into the wrong hands. Our advice is therefore to just leave a list of your online accounts with your usernames and any particular wishes you’d like your executors to follow.
One thing that is clear is that whilst our online lives continue to takeover, the laws regarding them have not developed at the same pace. Your legal rights to digital assets remain uncertain, but making a Will and considering your online presence whilst doing so is more vital than ever.
What happens to Facebook when you die?
Facebook allows for the removal or memorialisation of an account. A memorialised account's username and password no longer work, however the profile is maintained with the existing privacy settings in place. Anyone with proof of death can request the memorialisation of an account. Verified family members can request the removal of an account.
For more information, visit: https://www.facebook.com/help/www/150486848354038
What happens to Twitter when you die?
Twitter will either allow a profile to remain online or remove it at the request of a family member. Removal requires a written request including the death certificate, some proof of identification, proof of your relationship to the deceased, and, in some cases, proof the Twitter account belonged to the deceased.
For more information, visit: https://support.twitter.com/articles/87894-contacting-twitter-about-a-deceased-user