Wills, Probate, Tax & Trusts
What happens to your social media & digital assets when you die?September 28, 2017
Taking photos on a phone and uploading them to social media - these are your digital assets which are part of everyday life. But do you ever actually own them and what happens to them when you die? Cherry Stuckey explains.
A digital asset is anything that you own or have rights to that exists online or on hard storage devices such as your computer or mobile phone. This includes your online banking accounts, social media accounts such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, online shopping accounts, media stores and online gaming accounts. Not all digital assets have a monetary value. Whilst online bank accounts, bitcoins or your Paypal account can be passed to beneficiaries, your pictures, posts or information on social media may be just as important to you though they have no monetary value.
Do I actually 'own' the content on my apps?
Digital assets are not automatically owned. Often we have a licence to use the asset which terminates on death and cannot be passed on to a beneficiary. Music held in an iTunes account for instance is enjoyed on a licence basis only and therefore could not be passed on. The same could be true of your photos uploaded to Instagram or Facebook.
Surely I can just give a family member access to my accounts?
This depends on the terms and conditions of the provider. Often the executor does not have the legal right to access the particular account using the deceased’s password and log in details as they are personal to the deceased and are not permitted to be disclosed for confidentiality reasons.
What if I don’t want anyone to see my private emails?
Whether your private emails actually remain private will all depend on the terms and conditions of the service provider. Gmail and Hotmail will release emails in certain circumstances, whilst Yahoo will not release emails on any basis. If privacy after your death is important to you, you will need to pick your email provider accordingly.
So what should I do?
Though your assets may be digital in form, they are still assets and as such it is important to leave clear instructions to your executors about what should happen to them when you die. It is wise to keep a regularly updated inventory of your online assets - logins, passwords and social media accounts, which should be stored with your Will.
Check the terms and conditions of the service provider to see whether you actually own the asset. You alone may only have rights to your digital content and so your executors may have problems accessing your online content. Photos or other documents that have been stored in the cloud are subject to the specific terms of the provider. Often when the holder ceases to pay the subscription fees the account is deleted along with all of your saved files. You should therefore back up your digital assets on an external hard drive or provide a family member with the ability to access the account.
It helps if at least one of your executors are tech savvy as they will need to negotiate the digital world.
Unfortunately the law is yet to keep up with our changing online community and until such time we all need to take steps to protect our digital assets - as we would our physical assets.