What Happens to your Social Media and Digital Assets when you die?

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Facebook has landed itself in controversy recently with the recent uncovering of Cambridge Analytica (a third party) harvesting millions of users data. This has called for a congressional enquiry into the platform, and has caused many users to #DeleteFacebook with people are abandoning the social network in droves.


However, should you chose to keep Facebook, there are a number of things you should be aware of with any social media accounts in the event of your death. The Wills that we prepare are filled with references to houses, heirlooms, finances and instructions for children – but many individuals fail to take into account what will happen to their digital property once they pass away.


This is important, as private email accounts, social media accounts, currencies such as bitcoin, your own personal photos, and digital music libraries such as Spotify or Apple Music are treated like any other asset, and knowing what to do with them can help minimise a wide range of risks including identity theft.


What Happens to your Accounts?


Currently, the strategy is different across all social media platforms. Let’s have a look at the most popular social media platforms and digital assets you should be aware of:




When it comes to the world’s biggest social media platform, you can either choose to appoint a ‘legacy contact’ to look after your account, or have your account permanently deleted from Facebook.


However, these actions (that not many people are aware of) need to be taken prior to your passing. If you do not select anything on Facebook, the platform will automatically put your account into a “memorialized” mode  where people can post and share memories on the memorialized timeline. This account mode does have limitations, as nobody is able to edit or delete the content that is posted onto the page. 


Google & Gmail


Arguably no other social media services hold more of your personal information than your gmail account (with the possible exception of Facebook). Gmail is the primary email server that Australians use – and therefore can be incredibly important as a form of verification when dealing with the deceased accounts.


The easiest solution that many find is to leave your email credentials to your next of kin, however in doing so is a violation of Gmail terms and services. While there is a way for your spouse/next of kin to apply for access to the content of your gmail account it does involve some work on behalf of the applicant. The good news, however is that if you don’t care about any of your data associated with your gmail account, it will automatically be closed after nine months of inactivity.  


Twitter & LinkedIn


Twitter and LinkedIn are very similar for their requirements for a third party to shut down your account in the event of your death. In Twitter’s terms and conditions, it allows the person authorised to act on behalf of the estate or with a ‘verified immediate family member’ to delete your account if they can prove your death. This is the same for LinkedIn.


This will entail the individual contacting these platforms directly to request the removal of the deceased user’s account. Twitter and LinkedIn both say that once this step has been taken, they will need to verify who the deceased is, and who the individual acting on behalf of the deceased is via ID and death certificates.


Digital Assets (iTunes, PayPal, Kindle E-Books, Bitcoin)


When you pass away, you leave physical assets such as books, DVD’s and CD’s that become part of your estate that can be left to your heirs. However, a similar transfer of ownership does not apply to your collection of Kindle/iTunes or any of the digitally downloaded content you have purchased.


What many people don’t realise is that with most digital content, you don’t actually own the content when you buy it. Instead, your purchase is essentially “licensed, not sold, to you by the Content Provider” (according to Amazon). This means that the hours of books, music, movies or television shows cannot be transferred to another person in any way.  


Why is this an issue?


It is important to be aware of the digital legacy that you leave behind. Many individuals are turning to social media to grieve, writing comments, condolences and final messages to the deceased as a way of creating a final connection.


This in itself is not an issue, but it does herald to the digital world that you have since deceased. Although you will not show up in any future Facebook searches, it may leave you susceptible to having your identity posthumously stolen.


Once a sinister individual knows that you are deceased, they will potentially look at targeting your social media, email accounts, bank accounts and anything else that they can get their hands on. This can be incredibly troubling for your family, who will already be dealing with other areas of your estate, as well as grieving.   


What can you do?


The most effective way to ensure the management of your social media accounts is dealt with in the way that you want is to include it in your estate planning documents. It is becoming more and more common for some lawyers to have a special clause within their Will documents for their client  to nominate someone / their attorney to close their digital account upon death. To make provisions for the handling of your online assets after your death, there are a few key steps you should consider taking:

  • Make a comprehensive list of all of the digital assets you own and wish to address. This can include things like access to online financial accounts; login information for social media accounts and forums you may frequent; domain names you own; online businesses; and intellectual properties like copyrights, patents, and trademarks.
  • Determine who will inherit or who will be responsible for your digital assets. Be sure to address each asset separately. Perhaps you want to leave your domain name or web store to a business partner, while making sure your children or spouse have access to online financial accounts and are able to get into your social media sites. It is up to you to decide what should happen to each specific online asset and who is the best person in your life to handle that particular online item.
  • Provide written instructions for each item on your list. If you want forum or Facebook friends to be notified of your death, provide details on who should let them know and how this should be done after you have passed away. If a domain name is valuable or if a copyright or trademark is worth a significant amount of money, let your heirs know this so they will understand the value of the items being inherited.  If you are not certain of how much a digital asset is worth, consider having a qualified appraiser help you determine how valuable it is.  Even a Pinterest or social media account can be worth a significant amount of money if you have lots of followers and advertisers interested, so do not discount the very real worth of your online assets.
  • Establish a plan for how to store information on your digital assets. You can use online storage services to keep all of your passwords and login information in one place, or you can keep a physical or digital list of all of these details. Be sure to provide information on where this master list is.  You may wish to keep all of your login information on a thumb drive or in a paper file stored in a safe deposit box, for example.  When you make changes to passwords or logins, update your master list so those who inherit don’t find themselves locked out. There are an estimated 30 million Facebook profiles belonging to people who have passed away, and The Daily Mail reported in the past on a family battling for access to their dead son’s Facebook page.
  • Make sure your instructions have legal power. If you simply make a list of where your digital assets are and how to access them, this is not going to be sufficient to ensure the online accounts and properties go to the people who you want to have them. In order to make sure your instructions are followed and the online property transfers to appropriate parties, you should include all of the details on what happens to your digital assets in a last will and testament.

By creating a proper Will that includes instructions on what to do with your social media profiles after you die, you can take control of your digital life, even in death. Don’t hesitate to contact the Wills and Estate Planning Team at Owen Hodge Lawyers if you need to create / update your Will.


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