Whether we like it or not, we live in the age of digital media. From grandparents to schoolchildren, nearly everyone has either a Facebook profile or some other type of online presence. Whilst digital media is a great way to communicate, have you ever thought about what will happen to your Facebook site when you die?
It is estimated that number of dead Facebook members will soon outnumber the living ones. Dealing with the death of members is a growing problem for social networking sites, as well as for the relatives and executors of the deceased.
When it comes to writing a will, digital assets are often overlooked. The issue of dealing with digital media just doesn’t stop with Facebook. Every year, more and more people store their personal photos on Flickr, home videos on Facebook, books on the Amazon Kindle cloud, contact details of friends and colleagues on Skype and private communication in Twitter or Gmail accounts – just to name a few popular internet sites.
Blogging about your life has now become a favourite pastime and garage sales no longer only take place in your carport but online on Ebay. Thinking it through further, money can be transferred easily to anyone with an email address using PayPal or Cryptocurrency. People meet on dating websites and business contacts are also maintained on LinkedIn.
Digital assets are not limited to online accounts, but also include digitally stored content on computers, USB flash drives, CDs, DVDs or mobile phones, as images, videos, data and text files.
Currently, there are no uniform policies or laws dealing with digital assets. Each internet company has its own guidelines when it comes to allowing executors access to a deceased member’s site.
Lawmakers have yet to catch up with the fact that a lot of us no longer keep books on shelves and photos in shoeboxes. Both the European Union and several states in the United States are considering laws giving relatives easier access to internet sites of their deceased loved ones.
The NSW government is a front runner on this topic in Australia by recently referring it to the state’s Law Reform Commission for investigation. The Commission will explore whether new laws are required to deal with the cleaning up and administration of online accounts so that people have certainty about what will happen to their digital assets when they die.
Aitken Partners has a wealth of experience in assisting clients with their estate plans, including digital assets.