With around 69% to 79% of Australians actively engaged in social media, spending between 1.5 to 2.5 hours a day with our online friends, our virtual communities – and assets - have become an important part of who and what we care about.
When people think about their Will and estate, they think property, possessions, bank and other service provider accounts – assets that have some physical form or monetary value. But our social media accounts have become extensions of ourselves to a greater or lesser extent.
With the prolific use of social media, knowing how to deal with a ‘digital footprint’ after someone dies has also become increasingly important.
Many social media platforms already have procedures in place to deal with this eventuality. Facebook pages, for example, can be converted into ‘memorials’, while Google allows users to notify and share account information with trusted contacts via its ‘Inactive Account Manager’. But the process remains very varied – and can be confusing for those less familiar with social media.
Ownership of digital material in such accounts (for example, photographs or other creative works) does not automatically transfer to the estate beneficiaries, which can add distress at an already difficult time. The issue is further complicated by the different legal jurisdictions these platforms operate in, some of which may consider accessing the account of someone who has died as an illegal act.
It’s therefore important to think about your ‘virtual’ assets when completing your estate plan.
In the same way that you might leave behind the code to a safe, you can include log-in details to your accounts in your Will so that your Executor – and your loved ones can access precious photographs, correspondence and other materials you want them to have, and so they can close accounts if needed.