A question that will undoubtedly be asked more and more frequently in the preparation of estate planning documents is what will happen to the online identity of a person when they die, including their accounts and password.
As our online presence becomes more and more aligned with how we define ourselves, Will makers are beginning to recognise the need to ensure that they consider how the online component of their lives will continue, or cease to continue, upon their death.
News.com.au recently flagged an interesting article on this very issue. Across the World it is estimated that 1.78 million Facebook users are expected to die this year, nearly 200,000.00 of them over the age of 55.
The issue that this raises is what will happen to the email, internet banking, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, iTunes, and Linked In accounts of these people following their death.
The article calls for heavier regulation and the establishment of a code of conduct for website providers in the way in which they deal with approaches by family members of a deceased, however in my view, the matter could in some circumstances be better dealt with by way of pre-emptive estate planning.
While there may be legal implications with the disclosure of pertinent banking and other online passwords, it may be prudent for Will makers to provide a list of online passwords amongst their personal papers that can be passed to their Executors upon their death. In this way, the passwords are not openly disclosed as part of the Will, but the deceased’s accounts may still be managed in accordance with their wishes, provided they are clearly set out in the Will.
Thought must be given here as to how online service providers and regulators will handle the disclosure of passwords and other pertinent personal information by their users into the future, as generations who have grown accustomed to enjoying an online identity approach old-age.
While a solution to this issue is far from clear-cut and traverses a number of sometimes conflicting areas of law, the consideration is one that we are more than more likely to be faced with into the future.
If you have any questions about your digital estate including your account and password, or your Estate Planning needs in general, please contact me.