Most people will be aware of the importance of organising their affairs during their lifetime so that on death, their estate can be dealt with efficiently and in accordance with their wishes.
We now live in a digital age and yet our digital assets are often overlooked. An ever increasing number of the population are now able to access digital assets, which in essence includes anything that exists in a non-text format (i.e. computer file) and comes with a right to use. This can include email accounts, social media accounts, online music libraries, online gaming accounts, e-books, online trading accounts, photos, paypal accounts, bitcoin accounts, logos, illustrations, animations, audio-visual files, presentations, spread sheets and word documents.
Digital assets can be valuable in terms of monetary or sentimental value to either individuals or to a business so it is important that they are dealt with on death as you would deal with your physical assets. How the digital assets are dealt with will depend on whether you actually own the asset or merely have a license to use it, so it is not necessarily straightforward and careful advice should be sought in the case of intellectual property rights. There can also be very serious implications of a third party accessing your digital assets after your death, so it is important that log ins or passwords for your digital assets are not disclosed during your lifetime, but instead, your digital assets are backed up if possible so that they may be accessed by the people you trust after your death.
One of the most common digital assets are social media accounts. Facebook was the first social network to exceed 1 billion active users, and as of July 2018, recorded 2.2 billion monthly active users worldwide. You Tube follows closely behind with 1.9 billion, Instagram has 1 billion and Twitter has 336 million. Whilst many of us use these accounts, most people will have no idea what happens to the account in the event of our death or whether we need to put arrangements in place in preparation.
For most people, social media accounts will be of sentimental value rather than monetary. Taking the most popular as an example, there are thought to be between 10 and 20 million people who have died with a Facebook account. According to a Digital Death Survey, 59% of us have viewed a social media account of a friend or family member who has passed away. Owing to the amount of personal information and memories that can be shared, it can be a comforting way for your loved ones to remember you by. Facebook therefore allow you to memorialise your account so that it will remain after your death.
You have to appoint a Legacy Contact (someone to manage your account after you pass away) and they will be able to pin a post on your timeline, respond to any new friend requests and update your profile picture. Alternatively, you can choose for your account to be deleted on your death if you would prefer. For either option, you can make these changes to your account by accessing ‘Settings’, ‘Account Ownership and Control’ and ‘Account Memorialisation Settings’.
Instagram works differently and will either memorialise the account of a deceased person when they receive a valid request or remove the account, but in both cases, only after death. They require proof of death such as a link to an obituary or news article or for deletion, they require proof of the deceased’s birth and death and confirmation that the request has come from a lawful personal representative.
Twitter also works slightly differently and will not allow any third party access to a deceased person’s account regardless of their relationship. On death, immediate family members can provide proof of death and request that the account is deactivated or the only other alternative is to leave it as it is.
It is recommended that you download all of your data on your social media sites during your lifetime, so that you can pass on all of your photos, videos and messages to your loved ones. This will ensure that your information is accessible regardless of whether your account stays live in the future and/or whether the recipient has sufficient expertise online. To do this on Facebook, you need to access ‘Settings’ and under the heading ‘Your Facebook Information’ choose the option ‘Download Your Information’.
The situation with other digital assets is less clear and it is therefore important that you take advice and action prior to your death to ensure that your wishes are met and your assets dealt with accordingly.
If you need help organising your estate please contact our Specialist Team on 0800 088 6004.