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Your digital legacy and protecting virtual assets

in Social Media & the Law by Rod Cunich on

If you’re an active internet user you’ve probably heard of the term ‘digital legacy’ or ‘virtual property’ before. You may have even wondered what happens to all of your online accounts if you pass away.

And if you’re reading this blog, it means you’re part of the 65% of Australian internet users who are engaged some form of social media. Over the last 10 years, we’ve grown our digital self from a couple of free online emails to a plethora of social networks and other accounts, each with varying purposes.

There’s no doubt that social media and how we operate online is having a big impact on our lives. It’s playing a more prominent role in day-to-day communications and information storage than in the past, making it important that people considered their digital legacy.

Over the last decade we have seen the continued rise of social media and steady growth of what you could call ‘virtual assets’. We now have a generation of people who are accustomed to buying their music online and my generation, who grew up with record shops, are increasingly turning to the web as well. Today, people are spending thousands of dollars and many more hours accumulating and creating online – not surprisingly, they don’t want it all this lost.

For this reason, Slater and Gordon have updated all Wills services to allow for social media and virtual property provisions which will mean succession plans include instructions for digital selves, making it easier for family to keep or shut down any accounts. 

Wills have always been documents that speak volumes about the age in which they were drafted, providing a unique insight into what was valued and how people lived their lives. In his Will Shakespeare left his second-best bed to his wife, while Benjamin Frankin’s last wish was that ‘his daughter not engage in “the expensive, vain and useless pastime of wearing jewels.”

In the past we’ve treasured and archived personal material such as letters and diaries, but these forms of communication have largely been replaced by social media.

The way we are filing, storing, collecting and communicating is changing.

Many Australians now store an enormous amount of their creative output online and some may want those accounts shut down when they die, while others may want them memorialised.

Think about who will have possession of your smart phone, computer, tablets, and other devices that store your photos, passwords and account information for all of those apps that help diarise your life (and food). Now you can leave instructions for the future of those accounts in a will.

Social media platforms will only ask for proof of death, so a certificate will be enough to close an account down or memorialise it.

It’s also important to remember that social media platforms are all regulated by their own unique terms and conditions, which will frequently include policies for deceased users’ accounts.

We weren’t thinking about this issue five or 10 years ago, but as the number of users who create some form of social media account continues to grow, it’s important to plan what happens to those accounts.

Tips on how to protect your digital legacy

  • Review the ‘deceased user’ policies of each social media and email platform you use
  • Plan how you want each account dealt with once you pass away
  • See a legal expert to prepare a Will which includes instructions on how you want your digital profiles dealt with
  • Don’t limit your wishes to specific current social media platforms

Visit Slater and Gordon's online will service to complete your will in the comfort of your own home.

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