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What happens to our online life after we die?

What happens to our online life after we die?

Everyone who comes to us to have their will done has already thought about what they would like to do with their house, personal items and bank accounts. But only very few consider their digital assets. Consider for a moment the size of your online presence – your email account which details the vast majority of your personal and business communications, your social media accounts which detail your day to day life, your online bank accounts, your eBay and PayPal account, your personal collection of photos, music, videos and e-books… All of these are assets that also need to be considered when planning your estate.

The NSW Trustee and Guardian say that while 9 out of 10 Australians have a social media account, 83% of these people have not had a discussion with their loved ones about what would happen to these accounts when they die, and only 5% of people with wills have covered this in their will.

In an age where people have more of an online presence, paper trails are disappearing and it is becoming increasingly important to plan for the digital assets you leave behind.

Four reasons you should plan ahead:

1. Ensure that your online records and assets can be found and accessed by your executor after your death.

2. Ensure that photos and videos stored on password-locked computers can be accessed so sentimental memories will not be lost.

3. Ensure your decision about what happens to your online social media accounts is recorded.

4. Reduce the risk of identity fraud by closing unmonitored accounts.

Tips for putting a plan in place:

  • Consider who you would like to manage your online life.

This could be your executor, a family member or a friend. It should be someone who has a basic knowledge of digital activities.

  • Make a list of all of your digital assets and online accounts.

For each item on your list, record the location, the username, passwords and security question for the person responsible for managing your online life.

Items to consider:

  • Online bank accounts
  • Home services – e.g. Telstra or Foxtel
  • PayPal
  • eBay
  • Frequent flyer accounts
  • Business accounts
  • Email
  • Photos
  • Videos
  • iTunes
  • Cloud services
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Blogs
  • YouTube
  • + more…

Do not include usernames, passwords and the answer to security questions in your will. Your will becomes a public document once admitted to probate. To ensure privacy and protect against fraud, keep your passwords as a separate document and let your executor know where to find it.

Never provide the password for any online bank account – your executor does not need to know this information.

Remember to keep the list updated, particularly because some websites will frequently prompt the user to update their password.

  • Maintain your personal digital archive.

Keep your personal files up to date by periodically downloading your photos, videos and home movies onto your computer. Consider backing up these files on a digital storage device such as an external hard drive or USB.

Keep in mind that storage methods are continuously changing. We haven’t used floppy discs or VHS since the early 2000’s. You may need to update the storage method you are using as technology advances.

  • Think about what you would like to happen to your social media accounts after your death.

Would you like your family and friends to be able to access your photos and print them? Would you like your social media accounts deleted or kept active and memorialised?

Facebook has an option to memorialise your Facebook account. Facebook will shut down the account so no one else can log in, turn off birthday notifications and allow only confirmed friends to post memorials in the comments section of the page.

  • Know the terms and conditions of the agreement, license or policy of your account.

Different online accounts and service providers have different terms and conditions that affect what happens to your account when you die. For example, some email providers will give the next of kin a disc of all the digital data on that account. Google have an online inactive account manager. Yahoo will not transfer the content and will automatically shut down the account. Facebook have a proper method of shutting down the account as it is a violation for someone other than the account user to log in and change things themselves.

If you make sure you are aware of these requirements, it will be easier to plan for someone else to manage your online life after your death.

  • Decide where you would like to keep the instructions for your online life.

You could store the list and passwords somewhere safe like in a safety deposit box, with your will or among your personal files at home and let your executor know where to find it.

Just don’t store it on your password locked computer.

Article written as an update to the original entry posted in December 2014. Updated 10 April 2017.

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