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Lawyers urge Australians to consider their digital legacy

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Media Release

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With internet and social media usage continuing to rise across the country, a leading estate planning lawyer has emphasised the need for Australians to consider their long-term ‘digital legacy’.

Leading Slater and Gordon succession planning lawyer Rod Cunich said social media was playing a more prominent role in day-to-day communications with nearly 7,000,000 Australian households accessing the internet1 and 65 per cent of internet users accessing some form of social media2.

“The internet and social media are playing an increasingly important role in the way we communicate and store our information, which means people need to start thinking about what happens to that content beyond their individual lifetime,” Mr Cunich said. 

“According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the total volume of data downloaded in the December quarter of last year was 33 per cent higher than in the June quarter of that same year, which is a significant increase in such a small space of time.” 3

“We weren’t thinking about digital legacies or digital life 10 or five 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 that account.”

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treasured and archived personal material such as letters and diaries, but these forms of communication have largely been replaced by social media.”

“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.” 

“We also now have a situation where people have invested thousands of dollars in virtual property, including music, movies and books, and to the extent possible, they want those passed on.”

Slater and Gordon will now include provisions for social media and virtual property across all succession planning services including online automated Wills and standard Wills, allowing Australians to leave instructions for the future of their ‘digital self’.

The innovation will make it easier for families to keep or shut down social media or email accounts, and handle online music libraries or photo collections.

“The virtual world now has a much greater impact on people’s lives and when clients raised these issues with succession planning lawyers we wanted to make sure they were addressed,” Mr Cunich said.

Slater and Gordon’s online and regular Will services will now include a special provision for social media accounts and virtual property, where people can briefly describe how they want these assets handled. But Mr Cunich warns people not to include passwords.

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

“It is 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.”

Tips on how to protect your digital life:

  • 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

1 8146.0 - Household Use of Information Technology, Australia, 2010-11

YellowTM Social Media Report

ABS Media Release