For many of us these days a large part of our lives is carried out online, but have you ever stopped to think what might happen to your digital presence after your death? Will your online ‘life’ be deleted or preserved?
How can you ensure that any monetary or sentimental value held in your digital assets is transferred to your family? These are just some of the concerns you should address when considering an estate plan for your “digital afterlife”. Without taking the proper precautions, your digital assets may be left in limbo or permanently lost after your death. Wills & Estates Solicitor, Leora Tius from Atkinson Vinden Lawyers shares what you should be considering when planning your digital afterlife.
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What are digital assets?
There is currently no legal definition of a digital asset but the term commonly refers to digital items that you might own or have access to. It can include items of monetary value such as; purchasing accounts including PayPal, cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin; online blogs with advertising revenue or credits in customer reward programs. On a more sentimental and personal level, consider your online photo storage; email accounts and virtual storage accounts. The term also relates all of your social media accounts, which may include Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and hard storage devices that contain data.
Why do I need to plan for my digital assets?
Currently in Australia, there are no specific regulations to deal with digital assets so they may be treated like any other asset in your estate. However, if your will does not specifically grant someone the power to deal with these digital assets and you don’t provide adequate records, there is the risk that your assets may be missed or not adequately dealt with. The consequences of that might be worse than you imagine. If your social media accounts and digital footprint live on long after you are gone, that could make for easy identify theft and fraud.
Or perhaps, you have accumulated significant value in a digital wallet holding like Bitcoin, but you didn’t make plans to pass on your wallet’s private key details to anyone after your death. A significant amount of your wealth could be permanently lost!
A proper digital estate plan will also assist your executor to administer your estate. With the current decline in paper statements for various accounts, if an executor is blocked from accessing your online records, it may cause unnecessary delays in determining the assets and liabilities of your estate.
How can I make a plan for my digital estate?
Take your digital assets into consideration and discuss them with your solicitor when preparing your estate planning documents. You should choose an executor that is tech-savvy enough to deal with your digital assets and leave them clear written instructions for digital assets, including information about how to access the accounts online. The details could be set out in a document that is sealed and stored securely together with your will. You should also leave explicit instructions as to how you want your personal data dealt with. Do you want your family accessing your personal emails and messages or do you want them to be deleted?
Your will should also grant a specific power to your executor to allow them to deal with your digital assets and direct them to the location of the document containing your account details. It is important to note however, that your executor’s power to carry out your wishes will be subject to the terms set out by the provider of the specific account or website. Many service agreements will not allow anyone else to lawfully access your accounts using your passwords, even with your prior consent, so this should be taken into consideration when preparing your instructions.
One of the greatest gifts you can leave your loved ones is a well organised estate. The key is in the preparation; getting the right advice and including your digital assets in your estate planning. Don’t let your digital legacy go to waste.