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How do you finalise your ‘digital’ death?

While preparing a will is seen as essential for anyone who owns property or possessions and has dependents, details and security of a person’s online accounts and profiles is often overlooked.

Although the Internet is a relatively recent phenomenon, it is already an integral part of the lives of a large percentage of Australians. Most people have an email account and there are an increasing number of Australians with social media accounts and online identities. This presence can take the form of: 

  • Email accounts
  • Online banking
  • Photo storage accounts
  • Social media profiles
  • Blogs
  • Websites
  • Subscriptions

It is so important, now more than ever, that people with an online presence consider how their digital identity should be dealt with in the event of their untimely death.

As is often the case, the law is lagging behind technological advances. While it is relatively straightforward to deal with physical assets such as bank accounts, shares and property with the proper documentation, dealing with online service providers is far more challenging. Each online company creates its own policies and even with the proper documentation, such as a Grant of Probate, access is not guaranteed. 

Most service providers keep communications and stored data private unless the user chooses to share them. Some have issued guidelines to help family members unravel electronic accounts in the absence of a password. Others, such as Google, have settings which allow the user to decide what to do with all of the data stored across their various platforms after the user dies. 

Facebook has established rules that allow friends and family to transform a normal profile into a memorial. Twitter will allow family members of a deceased user to deactivate or convert the account to a memorial, however it will not allow access to the account or disclose other non-public information regarding the account.  

A useful site to assist with deleting online profiles and accounts is: http://justdelete.me/

By planning ahead now, you will assist your family in 

logging off your online life according to your wishes. 

An important issue to consider is who should have the power and authority to manage your online legacy after you die. 

Some of the things you can do to make your digital death easier on your family include:

  1. Keep accurate records of all digital assets and on-line accounts together with log-in details and answers to any security questions provided at the time of set up. This information must be kept securely and updated when necessary.
  2. Include instructions in your Will as to how you would like your online presence dealt with after your death. For example, detail if you want family members to be able to read your personal emails and other personal information or would you prefer all online accounts to be deleted.
  3. Ensure that your Will appoints someone to take care of your digital assets, whether that be your executor or some other person with the appropriate knowledge and capability to deal with your online presence. 
  4. Make arrangements to ensure your credit card accounts are cancelled as soon as possible, as most ongoing accounts and subscriptions are linked to credit cards. Direct debits from your bank accounts must also be stopped. 
  5. Consider setting up a Digital Will by using services such as Legacy Locker or Death Switch, which will secure your digital assets including account numbers and passwords. After your death, they release information to the designated person following a verification process. Concerns about providing these organisations with such sensitive information can be partially overcome by providing perhaps the username to one of these services and passwords to another or to family members. 
  6. Ensure that appropriate arrangements are made to release funds that may be held in accounts such as PayPal and eBay. 

By planning ahead now, you will assist your family in logging off your online life according to your wishes. 

If you would like more advice or need to change your will, please contact Mr Ron Moss, Principal Solicitor at Streeterlaw Sydney lawyers on 8197 0105 or by email at advice@streeterlaw.com.au

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