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April 20, 2023

What happens to your Internet data when you die?

With a little advance planning you can ensure that your digital legacy is preserved to pass on to your  loved ones. In our busy lives it’s easy to put this off. Fortunately, planning for your demise does not  bring it any closer. 

Digital assets are usually accessed online through third party providers such as Google, Microsoft,  Netflix or Amazon. Examples include digital photos, music, internet domain names, emails, social  media accounts, loyalty points, crypto currency and online gaming. It’s not always clear whether the  individual owns the asset or the online service provider. For this reason digital assets may present  challenges on death. Each service provider has its own terms and conditions which need to be  adhered to. 

How can you plan ahead to deal with your digital assets on your death?  

Make a list or inventory of the information that you hold digitally and online accounts. This  information should be stored in a letter of wishes along with your Will and updated  periodically. Failure to take this step could result in your executor having to identify your digital  assets following your death, which may be time consuming and costly. 

Exercise caution about how you store usernames, passwords and access codes. Public and private  keys for crypto currency such as Bitcoin or Ethereum, which should be stored securely and possible  in different locations. 

Consider whether your digital assets have a value. Do you need to make a Will or add a bequest to  your existing Will determining who will inherit them? 

Decide who will deal with your digital assets upon your death. Does your executor have the tech  expertise or do you need to appoint a second executor with the necessary knowledge and skill to  manage these assets on your death? 

What about confidentiality? Do you have sensitive or confidential information in your emails which if  accessed following your death could cause significant upset or distress. You may wish to consider  deleting information periodically to avoid such outcomes. 

Conversely, if you run a business there may be information contained in your emails which is vital to  the running of the business but is now inaccessible. In this situation you will need to ensure that the  right person has access to your emails and perhaps that important information is stored externally  and/or kept in hard copy. 

Another issue to consider is where the digital assets located. Do you have a valid Will dealing with  assets in that location? Courts have determined that blockchain is located wherever the key is held  but the key is not the asset. Where keys are held in more than one location this may present  difficulties. The law is not developed enough to deal with this type of scenario. 

The Digital Legacy Association is a global organisation focused on raising awareness of the  importance of digital asset planning and safeguarding. Further information may be obtained at  https://digitallegacyassociation.org/

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