WHAT HAPPENS TO YOUR ONLINE PRESENCE WHEN YOU DIE?

How many of you now have one or more of these: Facebook? Twitter? Instagram? Linkedin? PayPal? Email? Frequent Flyer points? Credit card reward points? Online bank accounts? Email? As most individuals would have at least some sort of online presence or would “own” “digital assets”, have you considered what will happen to these “assets” after your death? Do any of these “assets” even have value?

There are challenges in managing digital assets. For example, there are uncertainties for executors and for family members as to how to ascertain what online accounts or membership a deceased person may have had, what jurisdiction those accounts fall under, and there are challenges in navigating the terms of service under which individual sites or businesses operate. For example, all social media sites have differing processes for dealing with a person’s account after a person dies. Some sites will simply close the account which means the estate will not be able to access the online data, while other sites will allow limited access.

In Australia, there is currently no blanket legislation or code of conduct or accepted policy which would enable your executor to gain access to your digital assets or membership accounts. For example, as more and more bank accounts are being constituted as online accounts only and paper statements are no longer as prevalent, it will make it more difficult for your executor to discover these accounts after your death.  It is even worse if you are running an online business. If you have not given someone access your business and its online presence in the case of an emergency, any dealings with customers are likely to suffer.

Here are a few examples of the current policies certain online sites operate under:

  • Facebook

A verified family member may remove or memorialise a Facebook account after the death of the account holder.  A ‘verified family member’ must provide documentation of the deceased’s birth or death certificate or proof that they are the legal personal representative of the deceased person.  If an account is memorialised, it has restricted features and can only be accessed by confirmed friends.

  • LinkedIn

A LinkedIn account will remain active after the death of the account holder unless a ‘Verification of Death Form’ is submitted to remove the profile.  The person submitting the form must provide details about the account and information about their relationship with the deceased.  They must also provide evidence of the death such as a link to an obituary or a copy of a death certificate.

  • Twitter

A Twitter account may be ‘deactivated’ by the deceased’s executor or verified family member after their death.  You will need to provide documentation to process the deactivation, such as a copy of the death certificate, the applicant’s photo ID and a covering letter.  Before the account has been deactivated, immediate family members and authorised individuals (such as executors) may request images/videos of deceased to be removed from the deceased’s account by emailing privacy@twitter.com.

  • Instagram

Instagram’s privacy policy requires an interested person to contact them in the event of an account holder’s death.  Instagram will then email the applicant to request any further information or documentation required to close the account.

  • PayPal

The PayPal account process is quite formal on the death of an account holder.  The executor will need to send verification documents to PayPal, including a cover letter requesting the account be closed, a copy of the death certificate, a copy of the deceased’s will, and a copy of the executor’s photo ID.  The request for account closure will be reviewed and if there are outstanding funds in the PayPal account a cheque will be issued.

  • Flyer rewards programs

The Qantas Frequent Flyer program terms provides that “Membership will terminate automatically on the death of a Member. Qantas Points earned but not yet redeemed or transferred prior to the death of the Member will be cancelled.” The account will be closed on notification of the member’s death.   As such, if a member had failed to transfer points before death, the points accrued will be invalidated.

The Virgin Velocity program terms enable an executor or administrator to either transfer or redeem the deceased member’s points within 12 months of the member’s death.  The points can only be transferred to another Velocity membership account.  If the points are not dealt with within 12 months, they are automatically forfeited.  The points are not redeemable for cash value.

  • Amex rewards points

AMEX rewards points accumulated by a deceased cardholder can either be reinstated to a new account or redeemed by an executor of the deceased’s estate.  The timeframe for redeeming points varies depending on the type of card the deceased held.  Accrued points will be forfeited immediately if the card is cancelled.  As such, the executor should ensure they either transfer or redeem the points prior to cancellation.

  • Email accounts

Gmail provides account holders with a number of options regarding a deceased user’s account.  The account holder can set up ‘Inactive Account Manager’ during their lifetime, which instructs Google who should have access to your account after death or whether you wish for your account to be deleted.  If an account has no Inactive Account Manager appointed, immediate family members or estate representatives may contact Google to obtain content from a deceased user’s account.  However, Google will not provide access to the deceased’s account.

Yahoo email account terms stipulate that accounts are non-transferrable and rights in an account (and its contents) terminate on death.  As such, there is no right of access to any account content after death by the family or representative of the deceased, although some limited access has been granted in the past by court order.

When preparing your estate planning, it is now important to consider your digital footprint and how you should inform your legal personal representative to deal with your digital assets. Storing a list of online passwords and other details with your estate planning documentation in a safe location is one such way to preserve this information. If you would like to discuss your estate planning, please contact Rob Durey or Kimi Shah on 08 6166 9000 or kimi@ryandurey.com.