Our online presence is, in effect, today’s shoebox of treasured possessions, containing electronic correspondence, images, and other “virtual” mementos. There also a myriad of other related issues such as banking and social media accounts which require a knowledge of your passwords to provide access. However, managing them after death or incapacity can be much less straightforward than a box under the bed!

By planning for how these assets can be managed after your death and providing access to accounts relating to banking, email, websites and social media profiles, you can ease the administration of your estate and the process for your loved ones in dealing with these issues and your on-line presence subsequent to your passing.

Despite 69% of Australians being active social media users, 83% have not discussed with their loved ones what they want to happen to their social media accounts when they die. Further, only 3% of Australians who have a Will have included instructions on what to do with their online accounts after their death. Failing to prepare for your digital legacy can cause complications and delay for those managing your estate and can compromise the privacy and security of information you have kept online.

Australia does not yet have specific legislation regarding the management of digital assets so families have no clear framework as to their rights, access and ownership of the online life left by the incapacitated or deceased loved one. Moreover, internet companies each have different terms and conditions regarding what happens to a person’s account when they die and policies surrounding the ownership of data, the possibility to deactivate or memorialise an account by someone other than the account holder and the ability to appoint a digital executor in circumstances of incapacity or death.

Planning for your digital legacy is therefore crucial and can be done by taking a few, relatively simple steps.

Firstly, create a detailed list of your digital assets. Whilst there is no formal definition, these can include:

  • Hardware e.g. computers, phones, external hard drives, cameras
  • Personal accounts e.g. email, internet banking, social media profiles, online storage, websites, blogs
  • Information or data stored electronically e.g. documentation, mailing lists
  • Intellectual property e.g. domain names, trademarks, code, copyrighted materials

To ensure those authorised can gain access to your accounts, you must also provide all passwords and login details. Given the sensitivity of this information it is best you store these online using secure Password Management software or include them in a non-binding letter such as a Memorandum of Wishes and have it kept in a secure location. Note that it is not advised to provide this information in your Will as it will ultimately come into the public domain.

Once you have created your digital asset register, make a plan of what you want to happen to each asset. Carefully consider the directions you give for each account and who you want to nominate to perform them. Some directions you could give include:

  • Closing or deleting accounts;
  • Downloading the contents of an account or transferring it to a beneficiary;
  • Archiving and saving accounts using online memorialisation programs
  • Locking websites and closing domain names;
  • Shutting down any online businesses and directing where revenue should be transferred;
  • Nominate beneficiaries for digital devices and instruct them on what to do with the content.

As we rapidly move our lives more online and accumulate extensive digital assets, it is fundamental to include in your estate planning, provisions and careful instructions for how your digital life will be preserved and managed by your loved ones when you are gone.