In most cases, a discussion about planning your estate would usually involve focusing on drafting your will. The intention of a will is to ensure that your assets are distributed in accordance with your wishes when you pass away. Assets include items such as:
- Any investments you may have
- Your personal effects
- Any superannuation death benefits if your estate is the chosen beneficiary
As people of all ages are interacting more and more with digital technology online, it is highly likely time to consider including your online digital footprint – also known as cyber assets – in your final will and testament.
An ideal example of just how ingrained our digital footprints have become, along with their involvement in our everyday lives, can be shown by a set of statistics that note the amount of active users on most of the more popular social networking platforms. For instance, in an average month, there are:
- Approximately 15 million Australians who are regularly active on Facebook and YouTube (there are 2 billion global users of Facebook and 1.5 billion on YouTube
- Approximately 9 million Australians are using Instagram on a regular basis (700 million global users)
- Around 4.2 million Australians are active on LinkedIn (there are approximately 106 million global users)
- Close to 3 million Australians use Twitter regularly (there are close to 328 million users worldwide)
It is essential to keep in mind that your cyber assets go a lot more in depth than the social media accounts you have. They also include other online aspects such as:
- Email accounts such as Gmail, Yahoo or other sites
- Paid online memberships such as Netflix, Spotify or any other sites that you pay regular subscription fees for
- Online money transfer accounts like PayPal or cryptocurrency accounts
- Any online businesses such as Amazon, eBay or even a monetised YouTube account
- Stored information including music, photos, videos and cloud-based accounts such as Google Drive, Dropbox or Apple iCloud
Why these Assets must be Included in your Will
One of the main reasons why all of the abovementioned assets should be included in your will is that if they are not mentioned, your executor will not know about them or be able to access them. When taking unknown or inaccessible cyber assets that have monetary value into consideration, potential implications could arise such as:
- Inaccurate assessment of assets and liabilities when your final tax return is filed
- Assets may not be correctly distributed to your beneficiaries
Types of cyber assets that could have monetary value include a PayPal account that has a positive balance, a monetised YouTube account or even an iTunes account containing your music and available credits. In addition, your executor will need to inform your online service providers that you are now deceased. This will enable all of these services to be terminated wherever applicable.
Along with any of your cyber asset that hold monetary value, there may be others that are of more sentimental value to those left behind – for instance, videos and pictures on social media accounts and in any cloud-based storage accounts. Including all of these cyber assets in your will could provide emotional benefit to your loved ones while they are going through the grieving process as well as afterwards because the content on your profiles may not be available anywhere else.
When you include your cyber assets in your will, you will need to keep in mind that each of them will be subject to underlying service provider’s terms and conditions with regards to accessing your accounts after you pass away. This may sometimes limit the legal authority that your executor has with regards to managing the cyber asset in question.
With regards to the above information, numerous service providers have developed their own protocols below is a little information regarding two of the major online service provider’s protocols, namely Facebook and Google that can be implemented by you before you pass away or by an executor or family member after you are deceased.
Facebook has introduced the following protocols:
- Actions you can take before Passing Away
You will need to choose a legacy contact person. This will need ot be one of your Facebook friends that you choose to manage your account after you have passed away. In this case, your Facebook account will convert to a memorialised account, and it will have the word “Remembering” alongside your name.
The legacy contact you have chosen will be able to perform functions such as writing pinned posts on your timeline (like final messages on your behalf), respond to friend requests, change your profile picture and/or cover picture, download what you have shared on the social media platform and request that your account be removed. Keep in mind though, that your legacy contact will not be able to perform functions such as logging into your account, changing or removing past photos and posts, access your inbox messages, remove existing friends or send new friend requests out.
- Request Deletion of your Account
if you would prefer to not nominate a legacy contact, you can rather opt for having your account deleted when you pass away. In this case, an immediate member of your family or your executor can inform Facebook that you have passed away, provide the relevant information such as a death certificate and request that your account be deleted.
- Actions others can Take when you Pass Away
Others can request that your Facebook account be memorialised. In this case, a friend, family member or even your executor will be able to notify Facebook that you have passed away. They can attach a link to your obituary or provide the required documentation such as a death certificate to ask that your account be memorialised. However, if you didn’t choose a legacy contact before you passed away, your account will not be able to be cared for or actively updated as mentioned above.
- Request that your Account be Deleted
In this case, only an immediate family member who has been verified or your executor will be able to notify Facebook that you have passed away, supply the necessary paperwork such as a death certificate and ask that your account be deleted.
Google has implemented these protocols:
- Actions you can take before Passing Away
You will need to assign a reliable contact. This will enable them to download a portion of your content, but they won’t be provided with login capacity, in the event of your account being left unattended for any timeframe that you have predetermined (for instance, 3, 6, 12 or even 18 months). You will be able to nominate which of your content you would like them to be able to download such as Google Maps, YouTube, Bookmarks, Gmail or Google Drive. Google will inform them that the predetermined amount of time has passed and they will then be provided with the details surrounding your wishes about the content you want to have downloaded.
- Request that your Account be Deleted
If you don’t want to assign a trusted contact person, you can rather opt to have your account deleted if it has been left unattended for a predetermined amount of time.
- Actions others can Take after you Pass Away
Others can ask that some of your account content be downloaded. In this case, your executor or an immediate member of your family can inform Google that you have passed away, provide them with your death certificate and then request a US court order so that certain of your content can be downloaded. Keep in mind that they will not be given access to log into your account.
Immediate family members or your executor may also request that your account be deleted by notifying Google that you have passed away. They will then need to provide your death certificate when making the request.
Points to Remember
It is important to remember that life-changing events can take place when they are least expected to do so, and as a result, it is crucial to ensure that you are prepared with regards to all of your personal affairs.
Owing to the fact that virtually everyone is interacting more and more with digital technology these days, especially online, it is time to take all of your cyber assets into consideration when drafting your will.
A good starting point will be to make a list of all of the cyber assets you have, along with a brief description of what is contained in each of them. This should be followed by what you would like to have happen to all of them when you pass away or are no longer able to make decisions due to illness etc. From there, you will need to learn about the protocols that have been put in place by each online service provider to deal with situations like these.
If you would like to learn more about any of the points mentioned above, feel free to contact us today.