Have you made it clear who can Access your Online Accounts in your Will?
Pre social media, when a person died, their photo albums, letters, random papers and mementos automatically passed to their next of kin. In the digital era, the situation is not so clear. This post discusses who can access our sensitive online data after we pass away.
Few people give a thought to what will happen to all the data they have stored online, including emails, web albums, banking information, Dropbox accounts and even blogs, and few lawmakers have succeeded in legislating this thorny issue.
Terms of Service Policies Made for the Living
Currently, technology companies have terms-of-service agreements in place that don’t allow anyone to access an account which isn’t theirs. Trying to access other people’s accounts using passwords, even ones which have been entrusted to you, violates these agreements and could see an individual accused of cybercrimes. When these plans were made they were designed to stop fraud of live accounts.
Sadly, the same T’s and C’s are blocking relatives of deceased loved ones from accessing their accounts. There have been several recent cases in the US of individuals fighting to gain access to the accounts of deceased family members for both sentimental and practical reasons; it’s a situation that more and more families will face as we increasingly conduct our lives online.
This could be a major problem if you are an expat as the chances are you will be based outside of the country where the deceased person lived.
There are some serious privacy issues to consider here. Would you be happy to give your nearest and dearest access to your online life? You may be happy for them to see your holiday snaps but what about those risqué selfies sent to your partner? Privacy campaigners believe that the privacy of both the deceased and those who communicate with them should be protected.
They advocate a policy whereby access to information should be granted by a judge, arguing that in the pre-digital offline world, most of us would throw away the vast majority of our communication, keeping only the most important. This is not the case online, with huge amounts of personal information and communication stored indefinitely.
Tech providers are trying to get to grips with this issue and some have come up with their own solutions. Google, for example, will delete accounts if the owner doesn’t log in for a certain time, or allow access for a previously designated individual to Google+ and Gmail accounts. Yahoo’s terms of conditions state that a user’s account will cease to exist upon their death.
Facebook allows for memorialise accounts, enabling existing friends to view content of the deceased. They ensure the account no longer appears in searches. In the U.S, you can also designate a legacy contact. Upon your death the person you designate as your legacy contact can post funeral announcements on your timeline and download photos.
In a statement Facebook said: “By talking to people who have experienced loss, we realized there is more we can do to support those who are grieving and those who want a say in what happens to their account after death.”
This facility only exists in the U.S, at least at the moment.
Yet questions remain over whether these technology companies should decide the fate of our digital assets, and the courts have overruled their policies in certain cases.
What if your Online Activities Provide an Income?
Many among the expat community have online assets that make money. Websites, blogs and social media accounts are geared to producing revenue; sometimes they can produce millions of dollars a year. Many of these valuable assets are often also in a legal grey area, and without the means to claim ownership, beneficiaries of the deceased may lose out on a significant legacy.
The US is leading the way on legislation concerning digital assets. The Uniform Law Commission recently passed an act giving loved ones access to the digital assets of a deceased family member but also allowing individuals to express their privacy choices in a will. If introduced, this act would override the terms-of-service agreements mentioned above. Currently only Delaware and Virginia have adopted it.
While this issue remains largely unresolved, many estate planning experts advise individuals to make provisions in their wills for what happens to their digital assets as well as their physical ones. At present, there’s no guarantee that your wishes will be carried out but it’s the best you can do while lawmakers try to keep pace with technological advances.
As an expat this becomes especially important as both beneficiary and will maker. I can help you ensure that both your online assets and offline assets will go to the right people in your life. Click here and fill in the Call Back Service form. You do not want the people you leave behind to have to struggle to get what are theirs by right.