What Happens to Your Online Life After You Die?
17th February 2016
More emphasis is being put on what will happen to our digital assets after we die. How best can we secure passwords, music files and photo folders?
Consideration is being given in the United States to making changes to existing laws on Wills to incorporate people’s online lives.
Is now accepted that your online life will continue long after your death. The immediacy of social networking, downloading music and sharing photos online has often prevented us from looking too far into the future. When everything we need is just one click away, why do we need to spend our time worrying about what might happen in a few years?
Things are beginning to change. Instead of just worrying about what might happen to their material possessions after they die, more and more people are taking steps to protect the belongings they store online.
The near future is likely to see a significant increase in cloud computing – i.e. storing your information on a network of remote servers on the internet as opposed to a local server. This would have the effect of your images, items downloaded including songs and movies, your email logins, your social networking details and your online bank accounts being part of a new digital property.
An additional issue being how to value these assets.
People are now being to consider how to address this issue and how to include them in their wills. A recent survey suggested that 11% say they have included, or plan to include, their internet passwords in their wills.
People are now considering how to allow their executors to have some element of control over what is publicly available online after death.
This is not an issue that is highlighted on a site’s terms and conditions, or a consideration when you sign up, as to how your content will be used after your death. The prospect of any Government assistance is unlikely. The fact is that technology continues to develop at a faster and faster rate.
Legislation in the US has centred on laws that would allow the executor of a will to access the deceased’s social media accounts in order to either close them or leave them as a memorial.
The proposed introduction of a set of European Union laws means people may soon be given the ‘right to be forgotten’ i.e. the ability to ask companies to delete personal data.
While we wait for legislation to catch up with technology, the easiest way to handle this in practice is to explicitly stipulate your login details in your will if you want your executors to shut down your online accounts after your death but few users would be comfortable providing this information initially and then the need to continually updating your Will as your Accounts and passwords alter.
Facebook and Twitter do not hand over the login information of users.
If someone dies, Twitter will delete their account after receiving their death certificate from a family member.
When a Facebook user dies, their account is ‘memorialised’, meaning the user’s privacy settings are altered to allow only their friends to see the profile. Friends can also add comments to the user’s wall. Facebook will remove an account if requested by the deceased’s family after they provide a death certificate.
There are several digital legacy companies who will look after your online assets after you die. They require you to nominate a ‘guardian’ to who your details are passed on to when they die. The guardian manages the digital assets according to the member’s wishes.
Today’s reality is that we live in a vast online community which affects our daily personal and professional lives. It is up to us while we are alive to manage this appropriately.