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Online Assets – Deciding who controls your digital legacy

Online Assets – Deciding who controls your digital legacy

In today’s digital society, treasured memories and valuable assets are being  stored, uploaded and shared as part of everyday life.  Along with the photos we upload, our status updates, tweets, blog posts and emails, this wealth of personal information has combined to form what is now referred to as our “digital legacy”.

It is becoming more relevant than ever to consider, when drafting a will, how these electronic assets are to be dealt with. It’s an emerging area of law that is fraught with complications. The main problem is determining where the ownership of the data lies. Usually, ownership depends on the Terms of Use (or the ‘clickwrap contract conditions’) for each online service. Varying death policies across different email servers and social media sites, as well as a lack of uniformity around international digital privacy legislation, have led to a recent influx of lawsuits over who controls your “digital assets”.

Facebook’s new ‘memorialisation’ feature was the result of ongoing legal battles. The feature gives the deceased’s friends and family the ability to freeze the account, as well as deactivate or delete the profile.

Twitter accounts can now be closed by family members of the deceased with the provision of a Twitter username and obituary, after which they can download a copy of all the public tweets made by the account holder.

As for email providers such as Gmail, Hotmail and Outlook, relatives or representatives of the deceased can apply to these providers for access to the entire content of the deceased’s email account.

For you loved ones left behind, having access to this digital content can just as important as recovering physical treasured momentos. A suggestion is to include a digital register with your will, which contains the online location and passwords of online accounts. Or inform your executor or close family member where this digital register can be located, as regularly changing passwords means that the list you provide for keeping with your will can fast become outdated.

And with so much of our creative and personal content online, incorporating a digital legacy into our will is becoming more and more important. Consider also, that the executor of your will should be technically savvy enough to have the know how to retrieve your data and digital assets.

To help you find out more, we have put links to popular social media and email servers’ deceased user policies and procedures below.




Hotmail and Outlook:


Contact us to discuss your Estate Planning needs.