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26/11/2014

Managing passwords, online accounts and social media after death

29/04/2014

NCAT Guardianship Division

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Managing passwords, online accounts and social media after death

With digital property comprising a growing share of many individuals’ personal assets, it is important to remember that your ‘e-life’ will continue after death. Frequently forgotten digital assets can comprise anything from loyalty program benefits, to characters in online games and domain names.  Others are more sentimental, such as an account on a social networking site.

Unfortunately, governmental policy for online assets is yet to be developed, and so the families of the deceased must rely on the individual company’s policy in order to gain access to the deceased’s materials. Obvious security and privacy concerns have led some companies to adopt a conservative stance on providing information after death. A notable example is Yahoo!, which treats all accounts as confidential; meaning the only means of access is through the correct password. Google, which manages Gmail, Google Drive and Google Documents, requires proof of death to be delivered to its headquarters in the USA before it will allow access to its material. New customs are developing in the social media sphere, such as personal Facebook pages being reconfigured to act as memorials for the deceased. These spaces seem to provide a positive focus for the bereaved, in that they are able to address the longing to communicate with their lost loved ones. For some people battling illness, the idea of their social media presence being continued in this manner is a comfort. For others, it may feel inappropriate. In order to honour a loved one’s wishes, it is important to gain instructions on how they wish their online presence to be managed after death.

There are a number of ways to allow for secure post-death access to online information, and they do not necessarily involve including these details in your Will. One way is to leave a list of all right of use information, such as log-ins and passwords, locked in a safe location or with your executor, although this can mean regularly updating your list if you change your passwords periodic ally. Another step you can take is to leave specific instructions about your online property, for example, by including a provision in your Will giving certain copies of photos.

The most practical solution may be to compile a running list of your digital assets and passwords in a secure location, and leave a note with your Will (stored securely) about the list. It is possible to use an online password management service to store your passwords, and to also provide your executor with the master code (or again, leave a note of that code stored securely with your Will). This is simpler than including all passcodes in a Will, and having to execute a codicil each time an update is required.

For those who are keen to ensure that their online property is dealt with according to their wishes, management of their digital assets is now an increasingly relevant part of estate planning. Teece Hodgson & Ward can help you in considering arrangements to make as part of your estate planning to ensure that your digital property is identified and can be dealt with by your executor/s.

For assistance in this area, please contact:

Deborah Linwood

Asheetha Jelliffe

Craig Birtles